The Malian rebel group Ansar Dine says it's ready to fight off any military attempt to end their control of the country's north. The group is increasingly dominant there, having declared an independent union with the largely secular Tuareg fighters earlier this year.
But it is facing opposition from locals. It is estimated that more than 300,000 residents have fled since the region was seized. Those who remain face increasingly assertive rebels, and an increasingly tumultuous future.
Al Jazeera's Rhodri Davies reports.