Hundreds of volunteers are training in a military style camp to reclaim their homeland. They want the mix of separatist Tuareg-led rebels and al Qaeda-backed Islamists out of the region.
There are deep seated feelings at the lack of response after the rebels occupied the northern region in April. Commentators say it may be a hopeless task. There is little logistical or tactical support from the government or army.
The African Union said teams were working to prepare for military intervention but it would be a “last resort.” Clashes erupted in the area on Friday.
One witness claimed what he described as morality police had beat a woman for not wearing a headscarf injuring her baby. It was reported fighters from an Islamist group set up checkpoints and fired into the air.
Islamists have destroyed many ancient Sufi tombs in Timbuktu classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site.