TIMBUKTU, Mali // Hundreds of Malians looted stores in Timbuktu yesterday, saying the shops belonged to "Arabs" and "terrorists" linked to the radical Islamists who occupied the desert town for 10 months.
The crowd plundered stores they said belonged to Arabs, Mauritanians and Algerians who they say supported the Al Qaeda-linked Islamists who retreated from the fabled town ahead of its recapture by French-led troops on Monday.
Most of the residents of the impoverished town on the edge of the Sahara desert, hit by food and water shortages, seized whatever they could get their hands on: televisions, satellites, food and furniture.
Some fought among each other for items while others smashed in shop doors, emptying them within minutes.
In the suburb of Abaradjou, a man living in a former bank converted by the Islamists into a "committee of promotion of virtue and prevention of vice", was dragged out by a hysterical crowd who then pillaged the building, taking even office chairs.
In the newly liberated town of Gao in Mali, residents hunt down and beat suspected Islamist extremists who had not fled with their brothers-in-arms as Malian and French military forces closed in and retook the town.
Malian troops bundled the men into an army truck, their hands bound behind their backs. For the better part of a year, the Al Qaeda-linked extremists had banned music, insisted women cover themselves and began carrying out public executions and amputations in the towns of northern Mali that they controlled.
Now the Islamists' control of the cities has slipped, with the provincial capitals of Gao and Timbuktu coming back under government authority in quick succession with the arrival of French and Malian troops. They also may have lost control of a third key city, Kidal.
Yesterday, Tuareg fighters from a secular rebel group said they also were now in charge of Kidal.
To help battle the Islamists in their desert hideouts, a US military official said the Pentagon is considering setting up a drone base in northwest Africa to increase intelligence collection.
The official said the US signed an agreement Monday that would set the rules for greater American military presence in Mali's neighbour to the east, Niger, which would be the most likely location for any new drone base.
African and western nations on yesterday pledged more than US$450 million (Dh1.65 billion) to fund an African-led military force to continue the fight against the Islamist extremists in Mali. The promises of money and equipment were made in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, at a conference held by the African Union, which said $960m is needed to fund the Mali campaign.