Timbuktu Revels in New Freedom But Fears Linger

A Malian soldier patrols on Thursday on a street in Timbuktu. (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
A Malian soldier patrols on Thursday on a street in Timbuktu. (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

A leaflet listing regulations under Islamist rule now lies in dirt here at the tribunal in Timbuktu. Several days after French special forces parachuted in and liberated this storied city, there is a growing sense of freedom — though in the houses immediately facing the Islamic tribunal many of the eight- and nine-year-old girls are still wearing a head covering required by the Islamist rule.

The Islamists seized control of Timbuktu and the other northern provincial capitals of Gao and Kidal last April. During the nearly 10 months of their rule, the al-Qaida-linked extremists imposed harsh regulations on women and publicly whipped those who defied them.

The French military launched an intervention to oust the Islamists from power in northern Mali on Jan. 11 and rapidly forced their retreats from the major towns in less than three weeks’ time.

Timbuktu still looks mostly deserted four days after it was liberated from Islamist rule.

The electricity and phone networks remain cut. At night, the only illumination is the light given off by people’s cellphones and flashlights.

At the entrance to the town, there is a single checkpoint manned by a few Malian soldiers who flag down entering cars. Each car that is allowed to enter the city at night is signaled by a warning shot fired into the air.

Ousmane Halle, the mayor of Timbuktu, toured the city in a pickup truck on Thursday. He had returned on a special flight after a temporary exile in the capital of Bamako.

He said authorities were scouring the city for landmines after reports that the Islamists planted explosives.

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