May­hem in Mali

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

SHAPED rather like a but­ter­fly, Mali is a coun­try of var­ied charm, linked to the mighty Niger river and the lo­ca­tion of le­gendary cul­tural sites – Tim­buktu and the im­pos­ing and dra­matic Ban­di­a­gara es­carp­ment, home to the bib­li­cal cul­ture of the Do­gon.

It has be­come a tourist des­ti­na­tion of choice on the African con­ti­nent, but re­cent years have seen the coun­try wracked by in­sur­gency and strife.

It be­came linked to global events yes­ter­day when Is­lamist ex­trem­ists stormed a lux­ury ho­tel in the cap­i­tal, Bamako, and held out against com­mando forces who evac­u­ated civil­ians from the build­ing, then dug-in on the ho­tel’s up­per floors.

At least 27 peo­ple, a pre­lim­i­nary count, were re­ported dead. There had been at least 170 in­side, many of them for­eign­ers.

Mali is in the Sa­hel re­gion of Western Africa, a vast area plagued by mil­i­tant groups. The former French colony has, for al­most a decade, waged war against Touareg rebels and Is­lamist rad­i­cals. A ji­hadist group, Al Moura­bitoun al­lied to al Qaeda, has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the lat­est at­tack.

The as­sault comes a week af­ter the wave of Is­lamic State at­tacks in Paris, giv­ing rise to spec­u­la­tion it was a re­venge at­tack fol­low­ing events in France and Bel­gium.

In Fe­bru­ary 2013, af­ter French forces had driven out ji­hadist forces, French pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande trav­elled to Tim­buktu to re­ceive a tu­mul­tuous wel­come from a grate­ful pop­u­la­tion.

Two years on, there is the dan­ger Mali may once more be un­der threat from vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists.

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