Geopolitics

Meet Nina Wallet Intalou, Female 'Strongman' Of The Tuareg Rebellion In Mali

Exiled in neighboring Mauritania, this 49-year-old exiled firebrand and leader of the Tuareg insurgency calls on the West to accept their demands for independence from Mali, and to get involved in fighting off Islamists in her homeland.

Tuareg independence fighters in Mali, holding up the Azawad flag (Magharebia)
Tuareg independence fighters in Mali, holding up the Azawad flag (Magharebia)
Isabelle Mandraud

NOUAKCHOTT - All different kinds of visitors can be found waiting to speak to Nina Wallet Intalou at her home in the coastal capital city of Mauritania. One particular day last week, there was a young colonel of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) recovering from a battle injury, a French scholar, political supporters, journalists, and diplomats yearning for information.

When it was my turn to talk to her, after I'd crossed the courtyard where an Azawad flag was flying (the flag is a yellow triangle and three stripes, green, red and black), she led me to a quiet room and offered me a seat on a sofa – and a quick dose of straight talk. "We want independence, or a federation with a referendum in five or ten years – not autonomy," she said. "That would mean going back, and we are tired."

Three months after the beginning of the Tuareg rebellion that led to the partition of Mali and the declaration of independence of the northern part of the country, Azawad (which no state has recognized), talks have officially started between the independence movement and the Bamako authorities.

The negotiations are particularly tricky since the jihadists of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and their allies have taken advantage of the Tuareg uprising to take the lead on the ground. They now control the main cities of the North: Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. But after a first meeting with the NMLA leaders, late at night, Tiébilé Dramé, the envoy of the new interim Mali President Dioncounda Traoré, has drawn a conclusion: "Nina is the strongman of the group."

AQIM and our culture

A member of the Executive Bureau of the NMLA (most of whose members live in exile here in Nouakchott), Nina Wallet Intalou, 49, is a key figure of the movement. She is also the only woman of the group. Wrapped in a shiny black malafa, the traditional Sahara veiling dress, and smoking a cigarette, she smiles, trying to conceal her concern about the possibility of a reverse: "AQIM is occupying our land," she said. "Even men are not allowed to smoke any more. They are fighting our culture and our identity. Mali has never done anything against them. They want to erase us, with the complicity of Algerian authorities."

Her father was a top nurse in the military from the Idnane tribe. Raised between Kidal, Gao and Mopti, the activist moved to Ivory Coast in 1984, aiming to raise awareness about the Tuareg cause among her African brothers. There, she married a rich businessman, with whom she had three children, and resumed her studies. After graduating in Public Law, she set up a construction business at the age of 26, leading 250 employees and holding the monopoly on the cleaning of phone booths in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast capital.

After divorcing from her husband, she returned to northern Mali. She was elected Mayor of Kidal in 1997, but could never exert power. "Islamists were starting to settle in the region, and they didn't want a woman to rule a city," she said. "At the time, most of them were from Pakistan and were beginning to create the katiba combat units. Algerians only came in 2003." As a consolation prize, Alpha Oumar Kondaré, then Mali President, offered her a position of local councilor.

Hating Gaddafi

It is said that the elegant and ambitious Nina, twice divorced and the recipient of a Women of Excellence Award in the US, has had famous lovers, such as her brother-in-law Félix Houphouët-Boigny or Muammar Gaddafi. From 1998 onwards, she paid several visits to Tripoli to meet with Tuaregs from Mali working for the former Libyan leader. When I asked her about this, she took offense at the suggestion: "Well, for sure I have never been his mistress! I felt a deep hatred towards the man, seeing how he used the Tuaregs to fight in Chad and elsewhere. Gaddafi fooled them by pretending they were part of the Libyan army, but the reality is they were ill-treated."

A close aide to the military leader of the NMLA Mohamed ag Najim, she nurses a similarly strong hatred towards Malian Tuareg Iyad ag Ghali, who has become the leader of the radical Islam group Ansar Eddine, an ally organization to AQIM. "In 1990 during the first Tuareg revolt, he was our leader," she said. "Then he wanted to become the General Secretary of the NMLA, but we said "No" because he already had links with AQIM. I don't know if it is out of his beliefs or out of opportunism – probably both."

Nina Wallet Intalou now turns her attention to the international community, and her anger suddenly explodes. "Western powers have to get involved and give us the means to act," she declared. "Don't they spend millions to free their hostages? For months, we have been told that we will get help, but we got nothing. Nothing! And yet we have oil, we have uranium, but we are left in the claws of these people!"

The NMLA leader continues, "I have information from Timbuktu that jihadists have opened a military camp there. They hand over weapons and vehicles to young people. Someone who was riding a donkey ends up driving an SUV," she said. "This is how they bamboozle people."

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - Magharebia

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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