Al-Qaeda and its allies in Timbuktu singled out women for special persecution. The harsh reality inflicted on the people of Timbuktu by al-Qaeda and its allies is betrayed by the ordeal of Azahara Abdou Maiga. Five of the Islamists placed a gun to the 20-year-old's head, ordered her to keep silent or be killed, and then raped her one by one.
"I did not cry out," said Miss Maiga. "I just cried inside of me." For 10 months, Timbuktu endured occupation by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other extremists.
This isolated city of 60,000 people in the Saharan wastes of northern Mali was compelled to discover what life would be like under al-Qaeda's rule.
As such, Timbuktu became the unlikely test bed for the world that Osama bin Laden's followers wish to create.
That era, which began with AQIM's capture of the city last March, ended a week ago when French paratroopers and helicopter gunships forced them to flee Timbuktu.
In the aftermath, the full story of a brutal occupation is now beginning to emerge.
Perhaps inevitably, the women of Timbuktu were singled out for special persecution. Miss Maiga committed two offences in Islamist eyes: she sometimes failed to cover her face when venturing out. Most heinously of all, she carried pictures of Western pop stars, notably Celine Dion, on her mobile phone.