Mali Islamists Send Death Threats to Muslim Chiefs

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Radical Islamists controlling the north in Mali have sent death threats to several senior Muslim chiefs in the country, officials said Thursday.

One of the people to receive the threats is Cherif Ousmane Madani Haidara, who heads a Muslim association that groups tens of thousands of followers.

Haidara "has received numerous death threats by phone over the past several days, either directly or through those close to him", said close aide Ousmane Diallo.

"It's the Islamists in the north who telephoned," he charged, adding that one of the callers said: "We are going to kill you because you want nothing to do with our Islam... we are going to kill you because you don't want sharia in Mali."

Haidara heads a Muslim association called Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith), which is the same name as one of the radical Islamist groups that have seized control of the north of the country following a March coup.

"We have nothing to do with the Ansar Dine of the north. We condemn the hands that they are chopping," Haidara had previously told Agence France Presse, referring to the amputations of hands of accused robbers that Islamist groups in the north have carried out.

"We condemn their Islam," he said.

While most of Malian Muslims follow the Sufi brand of Islam, the Islamists controlling the north adhere to the radical Wahhabi tradition.

Underscoring the stark differences between the two groups, the Islamists this week destroyed more Muslim mausoleums that they consider blasphemous in the fabled city of Timbuktu.

Other Muslim chiefs who said they had also received death threats recently are Mohamed Macky Ba, the president of the Young Mali Muslims union, Mahamadou Diallo, an imam in Bamako, as well as Thierno Hady Thiam, another Muslim preacher.

An official with the Mali security ministry told AFP that the ministry was aware of the death threats and that it had taken "all necessary security precautions to assure the protection of the people threatened".

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