After the bombs, Mali hunts for the enemy within

The hunt is on in Mali for fugitive rebels who have gone into hiding

Diabaly

“Look at him, a baby terrorist, they get them young and send them to kill the people,” said the policeman, shaking his charge by the shoulder. “Most of them are caught like this one, but the people who sent him don’t care.”

The young prisoner looked terrified. “I did not do anything, I was just trying to find my cousin when this…” he said, spreading his hands in a gesture of hopelessness. His name is Jalu Traoere, 17 years old but looking a lot younger, arrested on the road between the towns of Niono and Markala, in the Ségou Region of Mali. He insisted he was trying to find his family, who were refugees from the north.

His misfortune was that he was coming from the direction of Diabaly, which had fallen to Malian and French troops. And, as the policemen who arrested him knew only too well, the route would be full of Islamists trying to escape and some of them trying to infiltrate and sabotage.

The cruel regime imposed by the rebels in territories they hold in the north, the brutal application of Sharia law, and the threats of jihad and retribution had led to a sense of trepidation in the rest of the country. And with it has come a search for the enemy within, with the innocent caught up on the trawl as well as the guilty.

Was there any proof that Jalu was an Islamist? “He gave himself away when we questioned him, he changed his story. There is suspicion to detain him further. Don’t be fooled because he is so young, he would have grown a big beard as soon as he could,” said the sergeant pushing into the back of a van.

Sitting inside was another suspected Islamist who looked to be aged in his late 20s. He too had been travelling on the road, he too was without a beard. “Ah,” nodded the sergeant knowledgably, “he has shaved it off to fool us, they often do that.” As they drove away he offered assurance: “If they are not guilty they will surely be freed.”

The anger towards the Islamists is understandable, and just over an hour’s drive away there were many in Diabaly who had suffered during the brief sojourn of the Islamists, and were happy for rough justice to be meted out.

Lassana Kanduku found the body of his brother Shekan shot dead by Islamists, and dug a grave to bury him. He said that if he could, he would hunt down the killers.

“I am hoping the two men who carried out this murder did not get away but were caught by the French and our troops. If they were caught  I want them hanged. If our family catch them they would become dead.”

Are the often arbitrary arrests not pouring oil on an already inflammatory situation? Joseph Diawara, a police prefect in Segou, the principal city in the region, and the second largest in the country, acknowledged the risk.

“We are not just holding people because they are from the north – we don’t want to start a civil war,” he said. “But the Islamists are definitely trying to send in people secretly to carry out attacks here. We have caught people with weapons, we have information that some of them have been hired in Gao [in the rebel-held north] to do these things. There are 160 [extended] families from the north living just in this city. They have family members joining them all the time, of course this gives the Islamists an opportunity to send people.”

Outside the Missiriba mosque in the city, worshippers gathering for prayer were soon in animated discussion about the threat of infiltrators. “Of course this is taking place, that is how they start to gain control,” cried Mohammed Haidara. “You don’t want that to happen to your city, you must be careful.”

But Madibu Koroma cautioned: “You know the Islamists were helped to rise by people in government who wanted to use them against the Tuaregs. We must be careful now not to believe everything they tell us. I hate what the Islamists are doing, but you cannot say someone’s a terrorist because he has a beard. Don’t forget it’s the foreign Islamists who are the main problem.”

Standing in the corner, Ibrahim Sidibe was keeping his own counsel. He was pointed out as someone whose nephew had been detained. “We are hoping to get him out soon so I have to be careful what I say. I am from Kidal, we were the first place the Islamists took over, we have suffered very much in their hands. But I have to be careful of what I say because people are nervous and when people are nervous there can be misunderstandings and people get hurt.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there