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Mob violence, looting follow fall of Mali towns

Angry crowds shout at suspected Islamist extremists in the back of an army truck in Gao, northern Mali, on Jan. 29. Four suspects were arrested after being found by a youth militia calling themselves the
Angry crowds shout at suspected Islamist extremists in the back of an army truck in Gao, northern Mali, on Jan. 29. Four suspects were arrested after being found by a youth militia calling themselves theJerome Delay / AP

Reuters reports -- French-backed Malian troops searched house-to-house in Gao and Timbuktu on Tuesday, uncovering arms and explosives abandoned by Islamist fighters, and France said it would look to hand over longer-term security operations to African troops.

French and Malian troops retook the two Saharan towns in northern Mali virtually unopposed at the weekend after an 18-day French-led offensive that has pushed back the al Qaeda-allied militants into hideouts in the deserts and mountains.

Malian government soldiers were combing through the Niger River towns and their neighborhoods of dusty alleys and mud-brick homes. In Gao, they arrested at least five suspected Islamist rebels and sympathizers, turned over by local people, and uncovered caches of weapons and counterfeit money.

Residents reported some looting of shops in Timbuktu owned by Arabs and Tuaregs suspected of having helped the Islamists who had occupied the world-famous seat of Islamic learning, a UNESCO World Heritage site, since last year.

Fleeing Islamist fighters torched a Timbuktu library holding priceless ancient manuscripts, damaging many.

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