July 24th, 2012
09:12 PM ET

Why Mali matters: al Qaeda on the rise

CNN's Erin Burnett reports from the border of Mali on why the northern region of Africa is important.

Why Mali: The rise of al-Qaeda in Africa By Erin Burnett

A quarter million people have fled Mali. That’s twice as many as from Syria. So, why are we here? Islamic militants, linked to al-Qaeda, have taken control.

U.S. authorities fear this country will be the newest haven for terrorists, and we have heard firsthand accounts of just that. Malians have told us horrible stories of militants slashing open people’s stomachs, and worse.

Mali is in the midst of war.

It began after the US and NATO intervened in Libya. When Gaddafi was killed, his weapons were looted. Many were taken by the powerful Tuareg tribe… and Islamic radicals. The Tuareg used them to fight and declared independence from Mali, something they’ve wanted for decades. And the country was split in half.

The Malian government, with only about 7,000 American trained troops, couldn’t stop them. Frustrated by the failure, some commanders staged a coup.

And Mali – one of the most successful democracies in Africa – fell into total disarray. That’s when Islamic radicals seized the moment, sweeping into the North, crushing the Tuareg.

Person after person here has told us of seeing fighters from Libya, Algeria and Afghanistan. The men they defeated told us the Islamists have many more weapons: RPGS, AK-47s, mortars and high-caliber weapons mounted on the back of 4x4s.

The Islamic radicals used those weapons, along with axes and shovels, to destroy historic shrines in Timbuktu. Shrines that date back to the 15th-century because, according to the militants, they offend Sharia law, which is now the rule.

I called the military leader of Ansar al Dine, the major Islamic militia fighting alongside al-Qaeda. We wanted to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. But they wouldn’t take my call because I am a woman.

The Tuareg want to defeat the Islamists. And they want help because the consequences, they say, are dire.

People in the villages are terrified.

Al-Qaeda-linked militants have established a network of informants, even paying villagers to join their cause. I was told villagers have been given satellite phones to report any sightings of westerners.

This is the reason so many have fled, walking for two weeks, to camps like the one I’m at tonight.

Filed under: International • Mali • News • OutFront Deconstruct
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Joe Jedeikin

    In your program today, Erin, you did not challenge your guest who said that never had there been anyone as brutal as ISIS since the 7th century. Really? The Nazis 70 years ago were much more brutal than ISIS. ISIS terrorizes us because of the beheading of hostages, machine gunning prisoners. That's what the Nazis did methodically every day but killing by way of genocide millions of people in gas chambers is clearly the maximum of brutalit by mankind in world history.

    September 3, 2014 at 7:36 pm | Reply
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  3. SC

    I know it's hot in Africa but she is not in CNN studio. Why was she showing too much of her chest? If God forbids something happens, people from all over the world will be blaming those people in Africa.

    July 25, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  4. Angela Muto

    Erin, I loved your story about the beautiful little girl in Mali with long eye lashes. I empathize with the innocent people and children of that country being destroyed by Al Queda. When I saw the little bird tied to the end of the stick I thought, how ironic. the children are capturing birds, breaking their wings and tying them to sticks to play with. The children are doing the same thing to the bird that Al Queda is doing to them. When you're shown no mercy you have no mercy. Thank you for telling the children to stop torturing the birds. My empathy diminished when the children attempted to bargain with you "we'll stop torturing the birds when you give us soccer balls to play with." Thank you for getting them soccer balls, and sparing the birds. What happened to the bird you showed tied to the end of the stick?

    July 25, 2012 at 3:45 am | Reply

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