CNN Special Report, by Erin Burnett (from refugee camps on northern Mali border, July 24, 2012) –
“Al Qaeda Rising:” Five-part report for CNN’s OUTFRONT
(click on links below to see video segments)
- Why Mali Matters: Al Qaeda on the Rise
- Fear of al-Qaeda’s Stronghold
- Militants destroying Mali’s sacred history
- Mali rebels committed to fighting radical Islamists
- Mali journalist living with fear of al Qaeda: “They are everywhere”
TRANSCIPT (Excerpts below - Click here for full rush transcript from CNN)
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I’m Erin Burnett. “OUTFRONT” tonight, al Qaeda rising. I’m live from a refugee camp just miles from the border of northern Mali. More than a quarter million refugees have fled the country, more than twice as many as Syria. They’re fleeing al Qaeda linked Islamic extremists who now control much of the country. Here’s Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, shortly after the killing of Osama bin Laden.
LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We’re within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda. I think we had them on the run. I think now is the moment.
BURNETT: But here on the frontier of northern Mali, al Qaeda and other extremists are getting strength. And the fear is that this could become a new safe haven for terrorists. We have heard some horrible stories about what is happening and you’re going to hear them. But in northern Mali now Sharia law is the rule. Today I called the military leader for Ansar al-Din. It’s the main Islamic radical group linked to al Qaeda here. We wanted to tell you their side of the story, but here’s what happened.
OMAR HAMAHA, LEADER OF ANSAR DINE: Yes, this is Omar. Hello?
BURNETT: Hello. Hello.
HAMAHA: Yes, what do you want?
BURNETT: Good morning. Good morning. Do you speak English?
HAMAHA: No, no. French is it.
BURNETT: No, no. I have — I have some help. Yes, can you ask him, are they, are they hurting people?
HAMAHA: Listen, speak in French. No, no. Listen. I do not speak to a woman. If you would like to speak to me, give me a man. It is necessary to respect our religion. We are — we do not speak to women. Do you hear me?
BURNETT: (Speaking in French)
HAMAHA: No, we do not speak with women. It is necessary to speak — it is necessary to give a man to speak with us.
BURNETT: CNN, Erin. Hello, Omar? Omar?
BURNETT: I want to explain how we got here. Because Mali is in the middle of a war that the world needs to watch. It began when the United States and NATO intervened in Libya, when Moammar Gadhafi was killed, all of his weapons were essentially up for grabs, and they were stolen, stolen by some of the fierce Tuareg tribe in Mali and stolen by Islamic radicals. The Tuareg used the weapons to fight and declared independent from Mali. This is something that they have wanted for decades. But the country was then split in half. The Malian government, with only about 7,000 American-trained troops, couldn’t stop the Tuareg. And frustrated by that failure, some commanders staged a coup.
Mali, which was one of the most successful democracies in all of Africa, fell into complete disarray. And that’s when Islamic radicals seized the moment. Person after person here has told us of seeing fighters from Libya, Algeria, Afghanistan, and other countries in the Middle East. The Islamic radicals swept into the north and crushed the Tuareg, and the men that they defeated told us the Islamists had many more weapons, RPGs, AK-47s, mortars and high-caliber weapons mounted on the back of 4x4s. The Islamic radicals also used those weapons along with axes and shovels to destroy historic shrines in Timbuktu. Shrines that date back nearly 700 years. The Tuareg want to defeat the Islamists and they want help to do it. They say the consequences of the world letting this problem grow bigger and bigger are dire…
UNIDENTIFIED MALE : The actions of the Salafists and the terrorists in the Sahel has direct consequences for Europe and the United States.
BURNETT: I can tell you that here people are afraid. At villages along the border that you’ll see, they’re very afraid of the Islamic-linked militants. They say that they’re paying people to join the extremist cause and that the radicals are actually giving people satellite phones so that they can call in when they see a Westerner. This is causing many people to flee and come to camps that are destitute, like this one.
BURNETT (voice-over): The rainy season is in full swing, with torrential downpours that leave refugees with nowhere to hide. Yet families walk up to a week in the heat and rain to come here. Mohamed fled his village in the middle of the night with seven members of his family. He left behind 80 goats, 10 cows and a camel. A fortune here.
MOHAMED MOUSA DE HOUKAT, LIVING IN REFUGEE CAMP: They were killing people in my village and I was very scared.
BURNETT: It’s still hard for 18-year-old Fatouma to talk about what she saw.
FATOUMA, LIVING IN REFUGEE CAMP: They sliced open one man’s stomach. There is no life for a woman, and everything is forbidden.
BURNETT: This man, also named Mohamed, came after Islamists tied him to the back of a car and killed his friend.
MOHAMED OULD BADI, LIVING IN REFUGEE CAMP: They beat him on the face, and they hit him with guns. Then they stomped him to death.
BURNETT: Here in the camp, goat meat is all that’s for sale. Makeshift tents leak. Food deliveries are once every two weeks, and lately, that hasn’t even been enough. Shortly after we arrived, an elderly woman collapsed among the crowd, waiting for rations of rice, sugar and oil. The female elder in this camp struggles to feed 10 mouths.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is not enough food and we want help.
BURNETT: The World Food Program agrees. Time is running out.
ANGELINE RUDAKUBANA, COUNTRY DIRECTOR, WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: We have food adequate to feed people for one month. But after one month, it’s really a problem.
BURNETT: More than half the refugees are children. And for them, we found only one school, a madrasa teaching the Quran. Up to 70 children attend classes here. Sanitary conditions are rudimentary, and many people are sick. A camp doctor told us people have parasites, skin disease, and children suffer from malnutrition. For now, there’s not much to look forward to. And it’s likely to get worse.
BURNETT: Ibrahima Coly, he is with the United Nations Refugee Agency, and Simone Carter with Oxfam. Good to see both of you. And we really appreciate your coming in and talking about us. Ibrahim, tell me how bad this crisis is. This is a crisis that a lot of people around the world have not heard very much about, but there are twice as many refugees fleeing northern Mali as from Syria tonight.
IBRAHIMA COLY, U.N. REFUGEE AGENCY: I would say this crisis have really promulgated a lot of people coming out from Mali and in five months already we have reached more than 200,000 people who have sought asylum in the countries neighboring Mali. And inside Mali today we are talking about more than 200,000 IDPs. All together, it’s a humanitarian crisis, when you talk about close to a half million people. And these people are in a situation where we can say desperate because after five months, we are still in life-saving activities.
BURNETT: I mean, Simone, we were just looking behind us here at these stick tents, and these people are living in horrible conditions, and they have all said, you know, they don’t have enough food. There’s only enough food for one month, the World Food Program says. What is the biggest need?
BURNETT: So what is the United States doing about this threat and what’s happening here? Joining me now is the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson. And, Secretary Carson, we appreciate your taking the time. You just heard the Tuareg rebels here saying frankly what I’ve heard from a lot of people here, and in the Islamist territory, saying that the Islamists are saying that Americans are dogs, in one case they said they’re like animals. What is the U.S. doing about this crisis?
JOHNNIE CARSON, U.S. ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS: The — thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be with you. Let me say, we’re deeply concerned about the current situation in Mali. The situation in Mali is a very complex one. It’s not just one problem. It’s several problems. It’s a problem of restoring democracy and governance to the central government and to the south. It’s a problem of reintegrating the Tuareg into society. They have a number of political grievances that have to be resolved. And it’s a problem of dealing with the Islamists, the Salifists, those who belong to AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Al-Dine, and it’s equally a problem of dealing with a complex humanitarian emergency. As a part of our effort to deal with the issue of AQIM, we have long had –
BURNETT: That’s al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb. Sorry, just want to make sure everyone knows, for the al Qaeda that operates in Africa.
CARSON: That’s correct. AQIM is the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. We have long had a program which is called the counterterrorism program. And in that multifaceted program, we have been providing assistance to the governments in the region to strengthen their borders, to strengthen their counterterrorism programs, to strengthen their military, and to give them equipment that will help deal with the al Qaeda threat.
BURNETT: You know, we — we’re here just miles from the border of northern Mali, and we went to the border. There was actually a lot of water when we were there. And water was really what was preventing the Islamists from coming into the village where we were. They were terrified. The morning after we were there, there were several 4x4s with guns mounted on the back patrolling that very area. And I’m simply saying just to make a point that our experience is that the border no longer matters. The Islamists are on the Burkina side and perhaps other countries you just mentioned. Are you worried this is a cancer that could spread?
CARSON: This is why we have the Trans Sahara counterterrorism program. This is why we encourage the states in the region to work together — their militaries, their customs services, their intelligence services. We think they should all work together to prevent the threat that is posed by AQIM in the region. It’s absolutely essential that probably no one country alone can deal with this problem. And it’s important that they all work collaboratively to deal with it together…
BURNETT: Obviously the funding here is really important and people are saying there’s money coming from al Qaeda-linked groups, and that it’s also coming from things like kidnapping and from drug trafficking. What have you heard about that?
LOCAL JOURNALIST: What I heard, this is really a worldwide network, because Salifists has connection with Arabic countries. They might be receiving help from other countries. We don’t know what role Algeria’s playing actually, because when you see the border of Mali, you do not have any border with Libya. Even people who think this is a consequence of war in Libya, there is no border with Libya, so where those weapons are coming from, they need to transit maybe by Niger or Mauritania or Algeria. So, we need to know what role those countries are playing in the world.
BURNETT: And what about drugs and drug trafficking?
LOCAL JOURNALIST: Drug trafficking, we heard about this plane which landed last year, 2011, in this area, (INAUDIBLE) Mali, when the regular government was working. They destroy the plane after it landed. So we don’t know was it coming from Colombia? Was it coming from Arabic countries? Nobody knows that.
BURNETT: Nobody knows, but you had heard there were drugs on the plane?
LOCAL JOURNALIST: Yes, because it’s a no-man’s-land area, no leader, so this helps them to do whatever they need…