In Timbuktu, Amadou said, the Islamists provided free ambulances to the local hospital as well as a weekly shopping shuttle to bring women from outlying towns to market. "When people have a problem with their health, they bring a car and take them to the hospital for free," he said.
"When it was our government, they were always asking for something. But (AQIM) don't want anything. They say they are doing it for God and they will wait as long as you need." He and Aboubakar gave only one name, to protect relatives from reprisals.
During the Muslim festival of Eid, when it is traditional for families to sacrifice a sheep, the group capped the price of livestock to roughly $56 an animal, Amadou said, barring traders from charging inflated prices, which can reach up to 2 1/2 times as much.
Basic staples such as rice are about 50 per cent cheaper in Timbuktu and Gao, 320km to the southeast, compared with Bamako, because the supplies arrive tax-free from neighbouring countries.
Diplomats in Bamako suspect that the Islamists, who grew rich by kidnapping foreign tourists, are also subsidising food by deliberately overpaying. In Timbuktu, families pay just $US4 ($3.80) a month for water and six hours' electricity a day. In Gao, Ansar Dine spokesman Omar Hamaha said the price was $US3, compared with $US15-$US20 for an average family in Bamako.
More than 400,000 people have fled northern Mali this year as Islamist militants seized an area larger than France, instigating corporal and capital punishments for breaches of Islamic law.
Amadou, a fellow tourist guide who fled Timbuktu because he had a child out of wedlock, said AQIM put an end to the looting and lawlessness that followed the rout of the government. …
… "The problem is people still don't have any money," said Ali, a driver in Timbuktu. He said people were weary of the occupation, especially the women, who had been used to dressing and acting as they pleased.
"Everything is cheap but we were not free," said Aboubakar. "We miss our freedom. For six months we weren't allowed to listen to music, we couldn't smoke. When you are young you want freedom, to go to the beach, to go to the nightclubs."
Timbuktu residents say that Islamist extremists controlling the city publicly whipped 6 young people, males and females aged between 16 to 22 years, who each received 100 lashes for having talked with each other on the city streets.
Aboubacrine Yattara, who lives in Timbuktu and witnessed the whippings, told Associated Press over the phone that the young people were arrested last week by the Islamists controlling the city and were convicted Wednesday of comingling. He said they were flogged Thursday in Timbuktu’s small market.