18. Being a Target

By Rukmini Callimachi

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A Timbuktu resident walks past a room where he and other residents say al-Qaeda held European hostages at Mali’s Ministry of Finance regional audit department.

(AP/Rukmini Callimachi)

The convoy of cars flying al-Qaeda’s black flag swept across northern Mali in 2012. Within weeks, it felt like a curtain had been drawn.

Over scratchy phone lines, I dialed and re-dialed the numbers of city officials, which usually rang unanswered. When someone occasionally picked up, they couldn’t hear me. By the time the amputations began, many were too afraid to speak.

I had been the West Africa bureau chief for ...

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