Mali: Angry Looters Hit Timbuktu's Streets

Crowds of looters have taken to the streets of Timbuktu in Mali after it was liberated of Islamists, raiding the homes and businesses of suspected jihadist supporters.

The angry crowd plundered shops they said belonged to Arabs, Mauritanians and Algerians who they accuse of supporting the Al Qaeda-linked radicals during their 10-month rule over the ancient city.

Speaking from Timbuktu, which was taken by French forces on Monday, Sky News Special Correspondent Alex Crawford said: "This is months and months of frustration and repression finally erupting and there's no one here to police these people."

Crawford has spoken to residents who suffered beatings under Islamic police when the militants ruled, including one woman who was flogged for talking to a man unrelated to her.

Her brother was shot and killed by the militants days before the French troops arrived.

Others had their hands amputated in public for supporting the government of Mali, Crawford reports.

It comes amid concern in the UK about plans to send hundreds of British troops to aid the French-led mission in Mali.

Up to 200 British military personnel could be deployed to West Africa to help train a regional intervention force, the Government has said, in a further deepening of the UK's involvement in the conflict to drive out radical militants.

Downing Street said the troops would be in addition to up to 40 personnel that Britain is offering to contribute to an EU training mission to build up the Malian army.

In addition, the UK has offered to supply a roll-on, roll-off ferry to help transport heavy equipment to the French intervention force currently spearheading the fight against militants.

It will also allow allies such as the United States to fly air-to-air refuelling missions from British airbases in support of the French operation.

With around 90 UK personnel already committed in the region with the RAF Sentinel surveillance aircraft and two C-17 transport aircraft already operating in support of the French mission, it could take the numbers involved to more than 300.

A spokesman for David Cameron said the Prime Minister remained adamant that British troops would not be involved in combat operations against the militants.

Answering an urgent question from Labour in the Commons, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the 200 British troops would assist Anglophone West Africa countries.

He said the role of UK soldiers "is clearly not a combat role and will not extend to a force protection role".

When pressed by the opposition party about exit strategies, Mr Hammond said he shared plans outlined by France that it should be a "short intervention to stabilise the situation on the ground".

For Labour, shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy expressed concern at the way the mission had expanded so rapidly.

"The UK commitment to Mali has grown from lending the French two transport aircraft to the deployment of perhaps hundreds of troops to the region," he said. "UK trainers may be non-combat but that does not mean they are without risk."

Mr Murphy told Sky News that Labour supported the Government's decision to send troops to Mali for training purposes.

But he said the public were "wary" about military commitments after the UK's involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Veteran Tory backbencher Sir Peter Tapsell said in the Commons: "The more frequently Western forces intervene in Muslim countries, the greater will be the spread of jihadism throughout the whole Islamic world and the higher the threat of terrorism in this country."

The mission to train a West African force known as Afisma - which has been under consideration since late last year - was being discussed at a donor conference for Mali being organised by the African Union in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

British personnel will be involved in training troops from countries, such as Nigeria, which is expected to be one of the largest contributors to Afisma which is slated to take over from the French once their mission is over.

Local troops had been unable to fight off militants entering Timbuktu last year and simply put down their weapons and fled - leaving the already armed radical jihadists with further weaponry.