View from Bamako: 'They cut off the man's hand with scissors. They want to destroy Mali'

In the capital refugees from the jihadist-held north tell Kim Sengupta of their suffering

Share
Related Topics

Hania Bakr Toure and her family decided to flee their home in Gao after seeing a young couple whipped unconscious. Their offence had been to have an affair which had resulted in an illegitimate child; the public were ordered to watch by the Islamist fighters meting out the punishment in the street.

"The girl died from what was done to her, the boy is still alive, but he is now disabled. We don't know what happened to the baby. It was only a few months old [but] the men with the gun took it away," the 33-year-old teacher recounted at a cousin's home in the capital, Bamako.

The tales of what is happening in the north of Mali under jihadist control are being brought out by those who managed to escape – a grim catalogue of savage and often arbitrary interpretations of sharia law by groups who proudly declare affiliation with al-Qa'ida, inflicted on a society which had been hitherto easy-going.

The news of killings and hostage-taking in Algeria, a direct extension of the Mali conflict, broke here in the afternoon with differing views of what it would mean. Some felt it may cut short the international intervention led by France with Western governments worried about reprisals on its citizens. Others, however, hoped it would show just how dangerous the Islamist threat in the region is and galvanise foreign military help.

Malians point out they have been facing such violence for months, as the International Criminal Court acknowledged today when it opened an investigation into alleged war crimes including murder, torture and rape. Accounts supersede each other in their shocking nature. One is of a pair of steel scissors forged by a local blacksmith in Timbuktu to amputate limbs. Not all such stories can be verified, but Amadou Ibadullah Massufi insisted this one was true. "They used it to cut off one hand of a man who had stolen a bicycle. It was done by Ansar Dine [one of the terrorist groups]. They wanted a more efficient way of carrying out the sentences of their courts.

"Now that the French have come to help, the others should do so too – America, Britain. After all, a lot of nationalities were attacked in Algeria, not just the ones helping here, it shows these people are ruthless. I am a Muslim, but we have a tolerant society here, these people want to destroy that in Mali and everywhere."

The refugees who have fled to Bamako were afraid that the vengeful jihadists would be following them here as they began a victorious march south. Air strikes by the French stemmed the advance, but the rebels, augmented by foreign fighters, are hardly a spent force. They subsequently took over Diabaly, 220 miles from the capital, forcing the Hollande government to send in ground troops.

France's Operation Serval has got under way, with fierce fighting in Diabaly between Islamists, French special forces and a Foreign Legion unit trained in desert warfare. A column of 30 Sagaie armoured vehicles attacked rebel positions in the town of Niono, around 200 miles from the capital, while fighter-bombers struck at six targets, including the headquarters of the "Islamic Police" at the village of Niafunké. More French equipment and troop reinforcements were coming into Bamako airport today. A young captain said: "I don't think we'll be going home for a long time."

Troops from Mali's neighbours in West Africa are due to arrive in the next few days, but no one expects them to be battle-ready. The Malian government knows its survival from the Islamist assault lies in the hands of the West. The interim President, Dioncounda Traoré, today went to meet the French troops at their base near the airport. But there is no guarantee his government would be able to withstand another onslaught by Muslim fundamentalists even if a respite is gained by international intervention. The Malian state – buffeted by coups and rebellions – is institutionally weak and unstable.

Mr Traoré was taken to hospital last year after demonstrators beat him unconscious. They were angry that he had remained in office under a deal following a coup. The main reason given publicly for extending his term was so that he could oversee the fight against the jihadists. The soldiers guarding his complex stood aside and let the mob go in to vent their wrath on the 70-year-old leader.

Hania Bakr Toure felt that Mali had a long way to go before there is stability. But for the time being she is glad that something is being done to drive away those who brought so much misery to her home town. "If they are defeated we have a chance. If they win we will have nothing left."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Rohingya migrants in a boat adrift in the Andaman Sea last week  

Burma will regret shutting its eyes to the fate of the Rohingya boat people

Peter Popham
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor