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Timbuktu Falls


How al Qaeda claimed the legendary city.

On the November night in 2008 when the United States elected Barack Obama President, I listened to the coverage on a transistor radio on a rooftop in Timbuktu. (Read more about Timbuktu in National Geographic magazine.)

I sat with a local teacher named Issaka and a businessman named Mohammed atop the small guesthouse Mohammed owned on the outskirts of the city, just a stone's throw from the rolling dunes that mark the southern edge of the Sahara.

Deep into the night we huddled against the desert chill wrapped in quilts, listening to the reports on French radio, discussing politics, and drinking glasses of st...