April 7, 2012
The rebels, armed with weapons stolen from Muammar Gaddafi’s formidable arsenal, took over an area of the Sahara as big as France in an astonishing 72 hours, taking advantage of the chaotic aftermath of an army coup.
Few of the people they promised to free waited to find out what freedom would be like. Instead, an estimated 250,000 people left their homes, terrified families fleeing with their children and possessions. Many told tales of looting and rape by rebels who now control a vast area in the heart of Africa.
Foreign governments were left scrambling to find out exactly who the rebels were, amid fears that a base for al-Qaeda will now be set up in the Sahara similar to ones in lawless parts of Pakistan and Somalia.