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Former U.S. ambassador to Mali explains the conflict

January 18th, 2013
05:16 PM ET

The former U.S. ambassador to Mali, Vicki Huddleston, explains how the conflict there came about. International leaders are responding to an uprising of Islamist militants in northern Mali, hoping to inject stability in a country once hailed as a model for democracy in Africa. Huddleston tells CNN's Christiane Amanpour that it was the conflict in Libya that "lit the fuse" in Mali.

Filed under:  Latest Episode • Mali

Timbuktu comes out of hiding

January 18th, 2013
05:15 PM ET

By Lucky Gold & Richa Naik, CNN

For nine months Islamic militants have had the legendary city of Timbuktua in a head lock, destroying ancient monuments and enforcing their brand of Sharia law in northern Mali.

France now has 1,800 troops on the ground in Mali and has pledged to keep them there until stability returns to the nation.

Even though French troops have not reached Timbuktu yet, the rebels have withdrawn and people are coming out of hiding.

Some victims of the militants bear horrific scars and tell stories of draconian punishment, but now people are beginning to celebrate.

One man there said just being able to step out and smoke a cigarette was a sign of progress.

Women can choose to walk outside again without a headscarf and people are waving French flags in Bamako, Mali’s capital city.

France’s president vows that French troops will stay “as long as it takes” to build Mali’s army back up, so that country can take on the long struggle against the Islamic militants.

RELATED: What's behind Mali instability?

Filed under:  Latest Episode • Mali

How to beat back Islamic militants in Africa

January 18th, 2013
03:41 PM ET

By Samuel Burke, CNN

Battles with Islamist militants in Mali and Algeria this week underscore the major challenge al Qaeda poses in North Africa.

But in one northern African country, Islamic fighters are on the run.

This week Somalia’s recently elected president met U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton State who hailed that country's major success in beating back al Qaeda's East Africa affiliate al-Shabab.  FULL POST

Filed under:  Algeria • Latest Episode • Mali • Somalia

Former al Qaeda captive ‘not surprised’ by Algeria attack

January 17th, 2013
05:08 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

The Canadian diplomat who was held captive by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb for five months said that he was “not in the least” surprised by the attack by militants on workers at a natural gas facility in the Algerian desert.

“They are on the look, constantly, for this kind of operation,” Robert Fowler told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

“What does surprise me,” he said, “is any suggestion, either from the spin-meisters on the al Qaeda side or indeed from the Algerian government side that somehow this action against the LNG [Liquid Natural Gas] facility was a direct result of the situation in Mali.”

The perpetrators of the attack, as well as their one-eyed leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, have been waging a rebellion against the Algerian government for 20 years, Fowler said.

“I suspect that Belmokhtar has been scoping this one out for some time,” he told Amanpour.

Four years ago, Fowler was kidnapped by Belmokhtar’s followers in Niger. He was held for 130 days in neighboring Mali, where he met Belmokhtar several times.

As to whether the attackers are “bandits flying a flag of Islamic convenience” or “latter-day Robin Hoods doing some banditry to nourish the cause,” Fowler said, he believed it was the latter.

“I’ve never seen a more focused, more selfless group of young men in my life,” he said. “They were dressed in rags. There was absolutely no suggestion of wealth or interest in wealth. They were young guys. They didn’t want cool sunglasses or neat shoes. They didn’t have MP3 players. They tended their weapons carefully, and they would tell me again, and again, and again that their only objective was to do God’s will, fight God’s fight, and to get to paradise as soon as possible.”

READ MORE: Algerian army frees some hostages in military strike

Filed under:  Algeria • Latest Episode • Mali