The Islamic militants capitalized on the city’s poverty, offering sign-on bonuses and monthly salaries to those who joined their cause, imams said.
Abdourhamane Maiga, assistant director of the Adadatou Alislamiatou madrassa, recalls one student who dropped out of school after being asked to repeat a grade.
The next time Maiga saw the pupil, he was wielding a firearm with the Islamic fighters at their police headquarters downtown.
‘‘They didn’t come here to practice Islam,’’ he says of the extremists. ‘‘The prophet never would have accepted a child of 10 years old waging jihad and taking up arms.’’