Armed Islamists in northern Mali attacked a vehicle and killed two civilians overnight, a witness and local official said Friday.
"There were nine of us in the vehicle between Timbuktu and Douentza. The Islamists ordered us to stop, the driver slowed but they opened fire nonetheless and two people in the front were killed," a survivor told AFP. A local official confirmed the incident and accused the region's Islamist masters of "sowing terror and desolation".
"I recognised the Islamists because there was a black flag on their car," the survivor recounted on condition of anonymity. "After the shots went off, we all ran away, left the vehicle and the two dead there. We hopped on a lorry that was heading for Douentza," he said.
Islamists groups with links to Al-Qaeda took over northern Mali -- an area larger than France or Texas -- in March, on the back of an offensive by secular Tuareg rebels they soon overpowered.
The fabled city of Timbuktu is largely under the control of Ansar Dine, a group led by a former Tuareg rebel which is believed to have ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the network's North African branch.
The city's new rulers have implemented an extreme form of Islamic law, destroying world heritage shrines they see as sacrilegious and cracking down on women without veils. A man accused of murder was executed in public as recently as Tuesday.
A month ago, Islamist fighters pushed south to take over the town of Douentza, which is now their southernmost outpost, sparking fears in Bamako that the fundamentalist rebels may seek to extend their grip beyond the largely desert north.