The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa has controlled the town of Gao in northern Mali for several weeks now, AFP reports.
The town's fall represented the final symbol that the north of the country is under the sway of the Islamist group linked to Al-Qaeda — and Mali's government is determined to consolidate its own southern power-base before trying to send any armed forces north. In the meantime, the Islamist group is recruiting daily.
The people of Gao are adapting as best they can. Many fear that their ancient monuments, such the 500-year-old Askia mosque, will be destroyed. So far, the occupants have not been applying Islamic law as strictly as they did in Timbuktu. Writing for The New York Times, Benjamin Soares noted earlier this month that Islamists destroyed and desecrated the tombs of Muslim saints in town of Timbuktu in northern Mali, similar to the Taliban’s 2001 destruction of two giant Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.