THE REPORTS OUT of northern Mali are more appalling by the day. A vast, arid swath of Africa has fallen under the control of radical Islamists who are imposing a strict form of sharia and building a new stronghold for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. As punishment for robbery, the Islamists have hacked off people’s hands and feet. A man told the Economist that the top of his ear was sliced off for smoking. “For drinking, they cut off your head,” he said.
The radical Islamists have also destroyed ancient landmarks in the north and become entrenched in an area larger than France or Texas. Two groups affiliated with al-Qaeda have carved it up among themselves, controlling Timbuktu and Gao. What they will do with this prize is anyone’s guess, but it seems likely to become a bastion for extremists to train and thrive with impunity.
There has been no shortage of alarms. “We have to act as quickly as possible,” France’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, said Thursday. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last month, “We all know too well what is happening in Mali, and the incredible danger posed by violent extremists imposing their brutal ideology, committing human rights abuses, destroying irreplaceable cultural heritage.” She called Mali “a powder keg that the international community cannot afford to ignore.”