Residents of towns in northern Mali are attempting to flee as Islamists from the militant group Ansar al-Din impose strict sharia law. The group has demanded women wear veils and not appear in public with men.
Chaos reigns as looting and abductions are widespread. Secular Tuareg rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) were assisted in their fight to create an independent Azawad in the north, by extremists with links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The rebels are well equipped with weapons looted from Libya, and AQIM are funded through kidnappings and drug running.
The three towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu are under the control of the rebels.Modern Ghana reported that in Gao women and girls have been abducted and raped. One resident said "Women and girls particularly are too terrified to leave their homes. People are describing an atmosphere of near total lawlessness." According to Arab News another Gao resident said "We barely see the NMLA. The people we see are the Salafis. I can’t tell which group they are exactly, but we know they are the hard-liners because of their beards. They are the people in control of Goa."
In Timbuktu, Ayad Ag Ghaly, leader of Ansar al-Din, decreed that women must wear veils, adulterers would be stoned to death, and thieves would have their hands cut off. According to the Telegraph one vandal has already had his hand cut off in public.