BAMAKO – As French troops continue their airstrikes against Islamist rebels in northern Mali, bearded Muslims in the Malian Capital are falling prey to paranoia, with police forces arresting anyone who might look like Islamists.
“I was near the area when I heard a deafening commotion,” Seybou, who filmed a video a group of men who were arrested by police in a mosque on January 14, told France 24 on Thursday, January 17.
“A passer-by told me there was a suspicious meeting of Islamists and they were being turned in to police,” Seybou, who wished to remain anonymous, added.
On a video showing their arrest, residents can be heard shouting: “Execute them!”; “They are infidels!”; and congratulating themselves for the “good catch”, even though there was nothing to prove their guilt.
“Some people started to shout [in Bambara, the national language of Mali] that the men should be executed,” he added.
“Others wanted to attack them but the police told everyone to keep calm.”
Heading to the mosque, at CAN-2002 neighborhood in western Bamako, the police forces arrested 13 people who wore traditional clothing from Central Asia.
Some of them also had long beards.
A witness who saw the scene from an apartment window says the men broke into the mosque carrying handguns.
The local resident who called the police said they saw the men taking guns from a hearse before heading to the mosque.
Finding no firearms, police officer confirmed later that the men had been released; however they still face a court hearing on January 16.
Releasing the men, police confirmed that the arrested belong to an authorized Islamic movement in Mali which has been popular since the 1990s.
“Dawah has nothing to do with extremist movements operating in northern Mali,” Abdoulaye Tamboura, a geopolitics researcher and a specialist in Sub-Saharan Africa, told France 24.
“Dawah appeared in Mali around 20 years ago and has since been active from the south to the north of the country.”
Dawah is an authorized Islamic movement in Mali which gained popularity in the 1990s.
Its members say they practice a moderate form of Islam and that they have no Jihadist intentions.
The arrested men were part of the Dawah Islamic sect and came to Bamako to attend a meeting for their movement at the Markaz mosque, police said.
They came from different cities and were staying at the mosque in CAN-2002.
Mali, once regarded as a fine example of African democracy, collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president in March, leaving a power vacuum in the north that enabled rebels to take control of nearly two-thirds of the country.
Muslims make up more than 90 percent of Mali's nearly 12 million population.
The UN said an estimated 30,000 people had fled the latest fighting in Mali, joining more than 200,000 already displaced.
France launched air strikes in Mali, an OIC member, last Friday to stop the advance of Islamist rebels in the north.
France plans to field a total 2,500 soldiers in its former colony to bolster the Malian army and work with the intervention force provided by the ECOWAS grouping of West African states.
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