Moussa Ibrahim, detained in Mali: “They accused me of supporting the Islamists”

Moussa Ibrahim is a 40-year-old ethnic Songhai restaurant owner in the Malian town of Timbuktu. He was arrested in February of this year on suspicion of supporting Islamist group Ansar Dine, which had taken over much of the region in 2012.

In March, he spoke to IRIN in the gendarmerie in Gao, where he was being held:

“The day the French arrived in Timbuktu, I went into the street to celebrate. Finally we were free.

“It was only a couple of weeks later that the problems started. One day, the [Malian] soldiers came to my house to look for arms. They accused me of supporting the Islamists. When they couldn’t find any weapons or other evidence of my affiliations with Ansar Dine, they left, only to return the next day. Again, they accused me of supporting the Islamists and brought me in the camp.

“The soldiers sat me on the floor, together with the other prisoners. There were at least 20 men in the camp. They were between 20 and 60 years old. There were Malians, of course, but also Algerians, a guy from Burkina Faso and even one man from Niger. Some of them looked like they needed medical attention.

“All the time, we were tied together with handcuffs or turbans. We were tied for so long my hands went numb. We were forced to sit up, and the soldiers took pictures of us with their cell phone cameras.

“After one week, maybe more, in the camp - I lost track of the days - we were finally moved to the gendarmerie, where they told us we would be transferred to Bamako. We stayed in the gendarmerie for at least another week. I was questioned and the officers explained I was detained on suspicion I was assisting the Islamists.

“I have a small restaurant on the outskirts of Timbuktu. The Islamists often ate there. In fact, they were my only customers after many people had fled. That’s probably why the soldiers believed I was cooperating with them. But I never accepted any money and refused to perform any services they asked me to do.

“My family lives in a small village a couple of kilometres away from Timbuktu. They don’t know I’m here. In fact, they don’t know I was arrested. I’m worried for them and the restaurant. As soon as they release me - because they have to, I’m innocent - I will return to Timbuktu.”