Islamists occupy Algerian consulate in north Mali
BAMAKO - Armed Islamists occupied the Algerian consulate in Gao in north-eastern Mali, arresting diplomats and raising their black flag at the building, several witnesses said on Thursday.
"I am currently in front of the Algerian consulate in district four in Gao. Armed Islamists have entered the consulate, arrested the diplomats and staff and taken down the Algerian flag to put up their own," one witness said in Bamako by telephone.
He said the Islamists "are also around the consulate, armed. Most of them have black skin."
A second witness confirmed the information: "I am next to the Algerian consulate, at the moment I can see black men, armed, around the consulate and inside. They have replaced the Algerian flag with a black flag with Arabic writing."
"I saw the Salafists' flag in place of the Algerian flag at the consulate but at the consul's house the Algerian flag is still up," said a third.
The town of Gao, which housed the regional military headquarters, was seized on Saturday by Tuareg and Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda splinter group the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa.
With the town split between the various rebel groups, lawlessness has been rife with humanitarian workers and locals telling of the widespread looting of government and private buildings, and theft of residents' cars.
The military rulers in Bamako who seized power two weeks ago have accused the rebels in Gao of kidnapping and raping women and girls.