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Ibrahim Toure said he was talking with friends near the public square in Gao, some 750 miles northeast of Bamako, when the Islamists drove up and ordered people to gather around.

“We understood that they were going to carry out a Shariah punishment, but we could not have imagined what was about to happen,” Mr. Toure said.

The crowd tried to enter the square, but the militants stopped them.

“The Islamists told us to go outside the square, and to stay behind the iron bars that encircle it. It was then that we started to really worry, because normally when they whip people, they let us inside. So we realized that something even more horrible was about to happen.”

Mr. Toure and his friends watched as the terrorists brought out a chair and tied its legs and back with a rope to a pillar on a stage inside Independence Square. Then the long-bearded “cadi,” or Islamic judge, arrived and gave a sermon, saying that within the territory the Islamic militants control, Shariah law would be applied.

“He said that for highway robbers, Shariah calls for the right hand and left foot to be cut off, and that four people had already had their limbs cut off. And immediately a small child came running out of one of the cars with a bag. We saw that it was dripping with blood,” said Mr. Toure.

The judge said the chopped off hands and feet of four of the accused were inside the bag. The fifth man’s limbs would be amputated in public in order to serve as a lesson.

The militants then brought the young accused robber out of the car and pushed him toward the chair.

“It was unbelievable. The young man, he just followed calmly,” said Mr. Toure. “He had his eyes closed with a bandage. He put out his hand to be cut, then he put out his foot to be cut. He didn’t cry out. He didn’t even move. It’s my impression that they must have drugged him — if not how can you accept to let someone cut off your limbs?”

Indescribable pain

One of the doctors who helped treat the amputees, said the Islamists initially came to the hospital and asked the medics to carry out the amputations.

“We categorically refused,” said the doctor, whose name is being withheld by AP out of concern for his safety.

The militants left and returned sometime later, carrying in the five young men who were trailing blood, he said.

“We could see that their feet had been badly amputated. They were in indescribable pain. You could read that on their faces,” the doctor said. “To treat them, we were forced to break the bones in their feet so that the skin could cover the bone, which was poking out.”

Last month, the government in Bamako, which still controls the southern half of Mali, asked the 15 nations in western Africa for military help to take back the north.

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