Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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February 6, 2013

Woman in Timbuktu punished for forbidden love


She explained how to find the mud house on Rue 141, past the water tower also made of mud, in a neighborhood less than a mile from where he sold gasoline from jerrycans by the roadside. She had time to put on a yellow dress.

He arrived on his motorcycle.

He was older - she does not know how old -- and already married, a status that bears no taboo in a predominantly Muslim region where men can take up to four wives. She found him handsome.

From that day on, he ended phone conversations with the phrase, 'Ye bani,' or "I love you" in the Sonrai language. Instead of Salaka, he called her "cherie" — sweetheart in French, still spoken in this former French colony.

He showered her with gifts, starting with a 6-yard-long piece of bazin fabric, the hand-dyed, polished cotton which is the mainstay of Malian fashion. It was a royal violet, and he paid to have it tailored into a two-piece outfit, with a flame-like flourish of orange brocade on the bodice.

She put it on for him, and they went to the photo studio one street over. They stood against the poster backdrop of an enamel-blue waterfall. He put his arms around her and invited her to sit on his lap.

By the time the first group of rebel fighters carrying the flag of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad drove past her house on April 1, the two had been seeing each other for several months. He called to see if she was OK.

These fighters in military uniforms made clear their goal: They wanted to create an independent homeland known as Azawad for Mali's marginalized Tuareg people.

Only days later, a different group of fighters arrived, wearing beards and tunics that looked like the kurtas common in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their black flag resembled the one people had seen on YouTube videos posted by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. They called themselves Ansar Dine, or "Defenders of the Faith."

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