It is over a month since Islamic extremists took a tentative hold on northern Mali, causing widespread fleeing by the local population. Militant Salafist group Ansar Al-Din has now declared "Our goal is the implementation of the Islamic Sharia."
World Analysis conducted an interview with Ansar Al-Din's media official Sanda Ould Bouamama, providing a fascinating insight into their plans. The group is vying for control with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), with whom they joined to to take control over northern Mali.
The Mauritanian president has been attempting to broker some dialogue with the MNLA but refuses to open negotiations with Al-Din, which he regards as a terrorist organization. Bouamama counters this claim by saying if "establishing the religion of Allah Almighty is terrorism then we are terrorists." He denies the group has links to Al-Qaeda, but it is known to have involvement with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Bouamama revealed that Ansar Al-Din, under the control of Iyad ag Ghali, has no plans to declare the area an independent state, which is the long term goal of MNLA. Instead the Salafists are focused on their goal of the "implementation of the Islamic Sharia." Al-Din's interpretation of Sharia includes the imposition of Hudud, Sharia penalties. He explains the Islamic policy imposed involved: "We implemented the Haad on people whom we found drunk, and smashed the pubs, and also the brothels, and we were able to confiscate large quantities of drugs, and we tried as much as possible to deal with the reality with objectivity, as you know the Islamic Sharia is absent in the Islamic World for ten centuries, and it is not easy to deal with people who are Muslims just by the name, in fact Islam became strange to the Muslims. That’s why we mix between the implementation of the Sharia and educating the people about the reality of Islam.." He failed to mention that Iyad ag Ghali had decreed "that women must wear veils, adulterers would be stoned to death, and thieves would have their hands cut off."
As Al-Din's spokesman presented a sanitised version of the implementation of Sharia in Timbuktu, Pravda describes the situation faced by the people of Mali. It reveals "shocking human rights abuses are being recorded daily against women and girls, who are being raped and kidnapped as sex slaves, while boys are forced to join armed groups. Those who can flee have to cross mine fields."
The people of Timbuktu did not ask for sharia law and unless they can flee the oppressive control of Ansar Al-Din or be released from their control, their situation continues to deteriorate.