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Islamists in Mali Chased out by French Soldiers and Disgruntled Locals

The al-Qaeda allied militias who took over northern Mali initially tried to win the hearts and minds of the local population. AQIM leaders handed out vegetables and preached Islamic values. The locals, in turn, were encouraged to join up with the newcomers, many of whom were foreign fighters from as far away as Pakistan.

But it wasn’t long before locals discovered the Islamists’ true colors. “We could see they were just bandits,” a butcher named Traore told the WSJ. In Gao the Islamists carried out a systematic rape campaign that terrorized locals. Suspected criminals were mutilated in public. Women were beaten and whipped.

“Other gunmen undermined efforts to win over converts to their puritanical faith by looting shops, stealing sheep and sniffing cocaine,” reports the WSJ.

The French advance has gone relatively smoothly so far. Jubilant locals cheer in the streets whenever French and Malian government soldiers liberate a formerly rebel-held town. Locals, it seemed, never really came close to identifying with the cause of the Islamists. We’re not surprised at this because, as Adam Garfinkle put it earlier today, “lunatic Islamists, whether ‘guest’ or native, always alienate the populations they abuse. It happened in Iraq, and now it’s happening in Mali.”

As he goes on to say, that doesn’t mean the fighting is nearing an end—not by a long shot. But it is helpfully clarifying when the Islamists’ play the part of their own worst enemy.

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