In the absence of French or African soldiers, it appears to be payback time for suspect Islamic militants in Gao.
Local youths, known as the “Patrollers of Gao”, have filled the security vacuum. They have been hunting men believed to be former members of the extremist regime with the aim, they say, of delivering justice.
“They are the Islamists who have gone into their homes to hide, so we have been rounding them up to hand them to the military,” said their spokesman Abdul Karim.
With no known agreement between the patrollers and the Malian army, it is clear some of the prisoners have suffered abuse.
There is anger over what the militants have done since they seized the city and imposed Sharia law 10 months ago.
Timbuktu’s historic library also bears scars. Islamist rebels burnt down buildings that housed thousands of ancient 18th century manuscripts before fleeing the city as French forces closed in.
It is the latest act of destruction by militants who have spent months smashing graves and holy shrines in the World Heritage site.