Mopti — At the entrance to the Evangelical church in Mopti, central Mali, military soldiers stood on either side of the door as Pastor Luc Sagara greeted his parishioners for Sunday mass.
The presence of the soldiers were a stark reminder that less than three weeks ago the town was under occupation by Islamist extremists committed to the imposition of Sharia law in this West African nation.
“We feel safe now. With the French intervention, we are hopeful that the Islamists will not attack us,” Sagara told IPS.
France launched a military intervention in Mali on Jan. 11 at the request of the country’s interim President Dioncounda Traoré after extremists advanced on the town of Konna, 60 kilometres northeast of Mopti. As the Islamists occupied town after town, intent on seizing the capital Bamako, Sharia law was imposed, and Christians and moderate Muslims were persecuted.
Since April 2012, northern Mali has been taunted by a coalition of armed groups composed of Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, and Ansar Dine, an Islamist group among Mali’s Tuareg population that live across the country’s southeast.