Mali rebels punish with whip, amputation

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BAMAKO, Mali — Speaking from his hospital bed, a young man whose hand and foot were amputated by the radical Islamic group controlling northern Mali described an agony unlike any other — “a pain that made me forget everything.”

Youssoufa Hamidou borrowed the phone of a hospital attendant and braved the guards posted outside his door to call a journalist hundreds of miles away in Mali’s capital to tell the world what he went through.

He is one of five cousins, all in their 20s, and all but one from the village of Fafa, who were convicted of carrying out highway robberies.

It is a crime punishable by double amputation, according to the strict form of Shariah, or Islamic law, being applied with increasing frequency in the northern half of Mali, which fell to al Qaeda-linked rebels five months ago.

Since then, an adulterous couple was stoned to death, a thief’s hand was cut off and numerous people have been publicly whipped, including at least one woman.

The amputations of the five cousins earlier this month in the northern city of Gao shows how much Mali, once praised for its democracy with undulating deserts and camel caravans a magnet for Western tourists, has changed in just a few short months.

“When it was my turn, they took me blindfolded and tied my right arm and my left leg just above the ankle with plastic ties to stop the circulation,” Mr. Hamidou said.

“Suddenly I felt a pain in my right hand that was out of this world. My hand had just been chopped off. They put a compress on it. Very quickly they cut off my left foot, and they also put a compress on it to stop the bleeding.”

“At first I was afraid — but the pain I felt made me forget everything, even my fear. Then the Islamists put us in a car and drove us to the hospital.”

The 25-year-old spoke to the Associated Press on a phone handed to him by a hospital worker. He spoke in his native Sonrai language in a voice so weak that, at times, the attendant had to take the phone back to relay his words.

Public spectacles

The interview, conducted over several hours, was interrupted more than once when the guards posted by the terrorists checked on the amputees.

Before the north fell to the rebels in April, Mr. Hamidou and his cousins belonged to the Gandakoy, a self-defense militia made up of people from the Sonrai ethnic group.

“When our militia was chased out, we held on to our weapons, and we used them to hold up buses on the road between Gao and Niger. That was until someone denounced us,” he said.

North Mali’s Islamist rulers make public spectacles of the brutal Shariah punishments.

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