Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

EYE ON AFRICA

Cameroon's president heads to Nigeria

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Hollande unofficially kicks off his re-election campaign

Read more

THE DEBATE

Do you believe in miracles? Longshots Leicester defy football odds (part 1)

Read more

THE DEBATE

How much is too much? Growing calls to cap executive pay (part 2)

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Fontainebleau: Home sweet home for King Francis I

Read more

INSIDE THE AMERICAS

Brazil's bumpy countdown to the Rio Olympics

Read more

ENCORE!

'Luminous Discontent': Robert Longo’s monochrome vision

Read more

FOCUS

Migrants: Austria building fence on border with Italy

Read more

EUROPE NOW

Finland: Migrants and money (part 2)

Read more

An in-depth report by our senior reporters and team of correspondents from around the world. Every Saturday at 9.10 pm Paris time. And you can watch it online as early as Friday.

REPORTERS

REPORTERS

Latest update : 2013-03-25

Mali: the scars of Sharia in Gao

The tension in the city of Gao is almost palpable. Liberated by French and Malian soldiers in January, it’s still threatened by jihadists. Order has been restored but most of northern Mali’s largest city lies in ruins. France 24 met residents who are learning to live freely again.

The handwritten message on the walls of Gao's Catholic Church is a poignant reminder of the past year's strife.

The large, careful lettering reads, “Les fuyeurs de l'église Catholique de Gao. Le 31 avril 2012” (Those who fled from Gao's Catholic Church. April 31, 2012).

Added, in a different colour, and in a different, more hurried, hand, “à 9h50min” (At 9:50 a.m.).

Outside, the garden is strewn with rocks. Except they're not rocks, they're chunks of concrete, what remains of the Church's cross. Islamist extremists pulled it down from the roof. Then they ground it down to unrecognisable fragments.

Few, if any, of Gao's Christian community have dared to return. The church's janitor, a Muslim, has hidden some Bibles and crosses for the moment they do come back.

That possibility seems a long way off. The memories of Islamist rule are still fresh. The sand of Independence Square is still scorched black where jihadists burned cigarettes and alcohol. Renamed Sharia Square, this is the place where floggings and savage amputations were carried out in public.

For much of last year, Gao lived under the control of the Islamists of the MUJAO and Ansar Dine. They still cast a long shadow. No one really knows where their sympathisers have gone; fear that isolated groups will make new incursions into the town for reprisal attacks is rife.

The black Salafist signs may have been painted over, but their message is still visible under the vibrant colours of the liberating armies: France, Niger, Chad. Mali.

Locals know that Mali's army, under-equipped and poorly trained, is unable to take charge of the next step. Many are apprehensive at the prospect of a French withdrawal. “Who's to say the Islamists won't come back when the French leave?” one local village elder says.

Realism, too, means few expect much from the local government. Only slowly returning from exile, the official infrastructure is in tatters.

The town hall lies in ruins. French air-raids, targeting Islamist fighters inside, left a gaping hole in the mayor’s office. A backpack lays torn open inside, pills and syringes spilling out: the jihadists' medical supplies. In the nearby courthouse, the smell of death is still strong, blood staining the stairs; a ragged boot is all that remains of one jihadist.

France 24's reporters Roméo Langlois, Khalil Béchir and Luke Brown visit Gao to find out what life was like under the Islamists – and how the people are trying to piece back together their lives and their town.

Don't miss The France 24 Debate on restoring order in Mali.

By Luke BROWN , Khalil BECHIR , Romeo Langlois

COMMENT(S)

Archives

2016-04-28 USA

The vicious cycle of student debt in the US

Student debt in the United States now stands at over a trillion dollars. And it’s going up, to the tune of 2,700 dollars per second. FRANCE 24 reporters Philip Crowther and...

Read more

2016-04-22 Syria

Exclusive: Interethnic coalition takes on the IS group in Syria

FRANCE 24 brings you a rare documentary filmed inside Syria. Our reporters gained exclusive access to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab militias, as...

Read more

2016-04-14 Turkey

The forgotten shipwrecked migrants of the Aegean Sea

The Aegean Sea, between Turkey and Greece, is a transit point for refugees fleeing the war in Syria or the Taliban in Afghanistan and trying to reach Europe. But their makeshift...

Read more

2016-04-07 Corsica

Corsican nationalism: The test of power

Last December, Corsican nationalists won a historic and unexpected victory in France’s regional elections. After decades of violence, they now have two years to prove themselves...

Read more

2016-04-01 mafia

Video: Vast mafia network on trial in Rome

In November 2015, the trial of a vast mafia network opened in Rome, with 46 people in the dock. They stand accused of extortion, corruption and misappropriation of public funds....

Read more