Macabre exhibit at Gao city hall of defeated Islamist fighters body parts
Residents flood building to see grisly remains of defeated militants who ruled city for 9 months
A severed head, a mangled leg and shredded flesh rotting in the sun: not your typical souvenir photo, but hundreds of Malians streamed to the Gao city hall, the scene of an epic battle last week, to see the remains of their former tormentors.
Mobile phones in hand, they wanted to record the defeat of the militants who attacked the city before rigging themselves with explosives and holing themselves up in the town hall. They died in a hail of Malian army gunfire.
"We want to see them, we want to see them dead," said one resident. Some of the Islamist fighters' corpses had started decomposing.
The stench of rotting human flesh filled the sun-soaked street but residents pulled their T-shirts over their noses and kept coming, hoping to snap a picture of the bodies. They were undeterred by the presence of unexploded grenades.
For nine months, when Mali was effectively split in two, militiamen from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), an offshoot of the main al-Qaeda franchise in the region, ruled the city.
They imposed an extreme form of Islamic law, flogging, amputating and sometimes executing violators.
At the foot of the city hall steps, the cleanly severed head of a bomber lies like a forgotten football. His leg is 15 metres away, next to the bodies of two other fighters, presumably killed by their comrades' suicide blast.
MUJAO fighters had fled the city under the French-led advance late last month. But they regrouped on its outskirts and infiltrated the city a few days ago to attack the Malian forces newly in control.
The worst of fighting was on Thursday, when Malian soldiers fired heavy artillery and rocket-propelled grenades at the MUJAO fighters before calling the French army for help.
The last Islamist fighter in the city hall was killed on Friday morning.