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Mob violence, looting follow fall of Mali towns

Jerome Delay / AP

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 "Gao Patrolmen". Malian soldiers prevented the mob from lynching them.

Jerome Delay / AP

Malian soldiers guard suspected Islamist extremists after throwing them in the back of the army truck in Gao, northern Mali, on Jan. 29.

Joe Penney / Reuters

Resident Ousmane Togo is reflected on a piece of broken mirror as he surveys the remains of a hotel hit by French air strikes in Douentza, Mali on Jan. 29. The hotel was used as a base for Islamists and was hit by French air strikes over a week ago.

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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Eric Feferberg / AFP - Getty Images

A Malian tries to break the lock off a store front as looters and residents stand by in the streets of Timbuktu on Jan. 29. Hundreds of Malians looted stores in Timbuktu on Tuesday, saying the shops belonged to "Arabs" and "terrorists" linked to the radical Islamists who occupied the desert town for 10 months.

Eric Feferberg / AFP - Getty Images

Looters crowd to get into a shop in the streets of Timbuktu on Jan. 29.

Eric Feferberg / AFP - Getty Images

A Malian soldier tries to disperse looters in the streets of Timbuktu on Jan. 29.

Eric Feferberg / AFP - Getty Images

Timbuktu residents plunder stores they say belong to Arabs, Mauritanians and Algerians who they accuse of supporting the Al Qaeda-linked Islamists during their 10-month rule over the ancient center of Islamic learning, on Jan. 29.

Thousands of residents came out to celebrate after French and Malian troops entered the town of Gao on Sunday, with a parade of motorbikes honking their horns and people weeping in disbelief. Lindsey Hilsum of the UK's Channel 4 News reports.

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