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Survivors tell horror stories of besieged Malian town

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 24th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Malian town of Diabaly is recovering after days of iron-fisted rule of Islamist insurgents. French troops have driven them out of this dusty town of 40,000 residents, but the people here remain thoroughly rattled. Horror stories of soldiers looting, defacing property and threatening civilians have begun to emerge.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Islamist army stormed through Diabaly last week, ruining the church, smashing away its cross and decapitating religious statues. A pharmacy was looted and homes destroyed. Defecting Malian soldiers joined the melee, local resident said.

French and Malian soldiers swept in and liberated the town to the cheers of the townspeople. After launching airstrikes and a final strike, the French military recaptured Diabaly from Islamist rebels. The emotional scars they have left, however will linger here for generations.

"They are not Muslims," 53-year-old resident Oua Diarra said. "Muslims cannot be thieves. Muslims cannot loot. These men were terrorists.

"The Islamists punished the children simply for crying at the terrible things that they saw ... We were so terrified."

The jihadists were driven out before their form of Shariah law over the town's people, threatening to do so once their grip on the town had been consolidated.

"Most of us, the people of the town, had not been touched by the Islamists, but we knew that it would not be long," one man said. Bringing his family into the town square to shake hands and take photographs with the French soldiers, he added that "They had threatened to punish anyone who broke their laws."

"The Islamists came with food and said they would soon teach us Islamic law," Mema Diakate says. "We knew that eventually we would not be able to stand here -- to come outside and laugh and lead our lives."

Some residents described the rebels as "outsiders" and "foreigners" and said they included some "Arab men." Witnesses also claim fighters from Chad, Somalia and even Afghanistan were among them. Deserters from the Malian army, failing in their efforts to protect the town, dumped their uniforms and joined the enemy.

Many residents are critical of the inability of the Malian army to hold the garrison town.

They recall dozens of fighters, perhaps as many as 200, managing to flee in a convoy of 4x4 vehicles. Some headed north into the desert while others vanished into forest.

The French military as it advances north from Diabaly remain acutely aware that while their enemy is melting away, it hasn't disappeared.

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