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The situation in Mali threatens to create an arc of instability across the neck of Africa.

International condemnation has done little to stop the abuses in the north.

Aliou Mahamar Toure, the Islamic police commissioner in Gao, said Shariah law distinguishes between unarmed thieves and those who rob at gunpoint, a crime that requires a greater punishment.

He said the Islamists were only carrying out the word of God and that they had done everything they could to make the amputees as comfortable as possible.

“We took them to the hospital. Today we gave them new clothes,” he said. “And we have put them in an air-conditioned room. When this is over, we will give them money — like a gift. They are now Muslims like us. They are our brothers.”