22 January 2013
Last updated at 09:46 ET
The people of Diabaly in central Mali have had a turbulent week. Their small town was seized by al-Qaeda linked militants. Days of French air raids followed before the Islamists fled and in the last 24 hours Malian and French troops have regained control. The town’s residents told the BBC’s Kate Forbes about their experiences.
Binta Diarra, who fled Diabaly to a nearby town: “We wanted to run away when the jihadists came. We tried to escape but they stopped us. They said that we were just like them and so we should stay. In the end we escaped across the fields and now we are waiting here in the next town, waiting to return”.
Malian soldier Khalid Damely witnessed the takeover of Diabaly, where he had been based for four months: “I was there when the jihadists came. They were too much for us. Seven pick-up trucks sped into town full of them. I think there were about 30 of them – shouting ‘Allah Akbar’ – God is great.”
"Some were Arabs, some were Malians – they had all races with them,” says Mr Damely, who is a private in the army. "They aren’t well co-ordinated but they are tough. We’re so badly equipped that we didn’t have any choice - we had to get out of there."
Aboubacrine Camara, a 23-year-old student: “I know you must be asking why we didn’t kill the Islamists if we don’t want them. But no, no - we couldn't - because we’re civilians, we’re not armed, they were. We were in fear of them.”
"They killed Malian soldiers on their way into the town, but at least you can say those soldiers gave up their lives for something they believed in,” says Mr Camara. “When the Islamists came here, I think they wanted to change our way of life. But I just can’t understand their way of thinking."
Khalid Toure, 38, used to work for a Chinese construction firm and fled Diabaly some days after it fell to the rebels: “When the Islamist militants knew the army was coming back, they started intimidating any young men they thought might be soldiers. They were pushing me around and wouldn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t."
"In the end they got my phone, smashed it up and snapped the Sim card," says Mr Toure. "They said local people were telling the army where they were. I’m going back now that they’ve been chucked out – we all left, and only my dad stayed behind.”
Binta Dombia, housewife: “I’m just really glad to be home. Really, really happy - and a bit tired. The army has done its job and I feel a lot better about things. I escaped with my family when the town was being taken over but we came back as soon as we heard it was safe. What can I say? I’m just very relieved.”