Enforcer for Islamist rule in Timbuktu captured by Malian Tuareg rebels after French air strikes pound insurgent camps

Rebel accused of atrocities captured with leader of terror group

Two senior Islamist leaders were reported to have been captured today as they fled French bombardments of rebel bases in the mountains of northern Mali.

The two men, including a law-enforcer who allegedly ordered amputations and whippings in Timbuktu, were seized by a non-Islamist armed group near the Algerian border.

Up to 40 French warplanes, some flying direct from France, have been pounding rebel bases and supply dumps in the deserts and mountains of the far north of Mali in the past two days.

The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, said that the objective was to “destroy their support bases, their depots because … they can only stay there in the long term if they have the means to sustain themselves”.

The situation is complicated by the fact that seven French hostages, seized in recent years in Mali and surrounding countries, are believed to be held by the Islamist insurgents in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains in the far north-eastern corner of the country. Any attempt by French special forces to follow up the air strikes could endanger the lives of the hostages.

A further complication is that the largest town in the far north of Mali, Kidal, remains at least partially in the hands of two separatist Tuareg groups who have split from the Islamist fighters.

One of these groups, the MNLA (Mouvement national pour la Libération d’Azawad) claimed to have captured the two Islamist leaders in an attack on a fleeing convoy and to have handed them over to local authorities in Kidal.

They were named as Mohamed Moussa Ag Mohamed, third in command of the Ansar Dine movement and the former sharia law enforcer in Timbuktu, and Oumeini Ould Baba Akhmed, of the al-Qa’ida affiliated Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao).

As the French intervention enters its fourth week, both government and opposition figures in France have warned that the Islamist rebels are far from defeated despite the rapid advances of French and Malian troops since early January.

The former centre-right Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, said: “Victory is not assured. We have not wiped out the terrorists … They can come back. We are entering a second phase of guerrilla warfare and terrorist attacks.”

Two civilians were reported by the UN to have been killed after stepping on a landmine planted by the insurgents. Four Malian soldiers died in a similar incident last week.

France hopes to remove some of its 3,500 ground troops as soon as possible and hand over to the Malian army and a force of up to 8,000 soldiers from neighbouring African nations. “Withdrawal could happen very quickly,” Mr Fabius said. “We’re working towards it because we have no desire to stay [in Mali] for the long-term.”

In Kidal, however, the two Tuareg separatist groups controlling the town have warned that they fear a “bloodbath” if Malian or West African soldiers enter what is an almost entirely Tuareg and Arab community. Paris and Bamako appear to have taken heed of this warning. French special forces seized the airport at Kidal last Wednesday but have not yet taken control of the town.

No French or foreign journalists have been allowed near Kidal and the situation is uncertain. According to French media reports, there have been fire-fights in recent days between French troops and scattered Islamist guerrillas close to the town. According to another report, some French special forces and troops from Chad – ethnically closer to the inhabitants – have entered Kidal.

President François Hollande was greeted as a national hero when he visited Bamako and Timbuktu at the weekend.

He said that French intervention was a “repayment of the debt” to Malian troops who fought for France in two world wars.

Timeline: the fight for Mali

10 January 2013 Islamists capture Konna, the furthest south they have ventured since taking control of northern Mali’s main cities following a coup in the capital, Bamako, in March 2012. Mali’s interim President appeals for French intervention.

11 January France launches first air strikes on Konna, and claims it has pushed rebels out of the town.

13 January Further strikes on the rebel-held towns of Kidal and Gao.

14 January Islamists seize Diabaly, a town even further south than Konna.

15 January French troops launch first ground assault against rebels.

17 January Malian troops recapture Konna.

20 January French and Malian troops push north to Niono and Sevare. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian vows the “total reconquest” of Mali.

22 January French and Malian troops announce they have recaptured Diabaly, and announce recapture of Gao four days later.

28 January Malians cheer as French troops announce they have recaptured Timbuktu.

30 January France declares the intervention a “success” as French troops try to secure Kidal, the last rebel stronghold in northern Mali.

2 February French President François Hollande visits Timbuktu.

4 February Kidal remains in rebel Tuareg hands.

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
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

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories