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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
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: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor