Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

THE INTERVIEW

Brazil's Rousseff: Lula is 'clearly innocent'

Read more

ENCORE!

Author Mohsin Hamid: The magic of the migrant crisis

Read more

TALKING EUROPE

Estonia at 100: President Kaljulaid on risks, opportunities and Europhilia

Read more

TALKING EUROPE

Did the WannaCry cyber attack make you... want to cry?

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

George Weah sworn in as Liberia's president

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Davos 2018: Global risks threaten optimistic outlook

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Davos 2018: Business leaders report record-breaking optimism

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Shark canapés, vodka and Russian models: How Davos parties at night

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

La Grande Crue of the mountains? Winemaker ages his bottles in French Pyrénées

Read more

REPORTERS

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

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

2018-01-19 Iraq

Exclusive: On the frontline with Shiite militias in Iraq

In December 2017, the Iraqi government announced with great fanfare the "official end of the war against the Islamic State group". The announcement marked the end of three years...

Read more

2018-01-11 Americas

Video: Inside the deadly US opioid crisis

Opioids kill more people than they cure. Every day in the United States, some 140 people die from taking opioids - addictive opiate-based drugs. They’ve become the leading cause...

Read more

2017-12-20 Africa

Egypt's Coptic Christians live in fear of Islamist attacks

Egypt’s Coptic Christians have been the target of unprecedented attacks since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. The election of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012 saw an upsurge with...

Read more

2017-12-15 Africa

Exclusive video: South Sudan, a cursed land

For the past four years South Sudan has been torn apart by civil war – and the situation in the country is desperate. Famine rages across all conflict zones and the first victims...

Read more

2017-12-08 Libya

Video: Trapped in Libya, migrants face torture and slavery

In the past few months, the number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean has shrunk drastically on the back of new migrant policies in Libya and Italy alike. Instead,...

Read more