New York Times
Published: July 30, 2012
BAMAKO, Mali — Islamists in control of a town in northern Mali stoned a couple to death after accusing them of having children outside of marriage, a local official who was one of several hundred witnesses to the killings said Monday.
The official said the bearded Islamists, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, brought the couple into the center of the town of Aguelhok from about 12 miles away in the countryside. The young man and woman were forced into holes about four feet deep, with their heads protruding, and then stoned to death at about 5 a.m. Sunday, the official said.
“They put them into the holes, and then they started throwing big rocks, until they were dead,” the official said, speaking by satellite phone from the remote desert town near the Algerian border.
“It was horrible,” he said, noting that the woman had moaned and cried out and that her partner had yelled something indistinct during the attack. “It was inhuman. They killed them like they were animals.”
The official insisted that he not to be identified because he said “our lives are in danger here.” The official said many of the 2,000 people in Aguelhok had already begun leaving, crossing the border into Algeria, as a result of Sunday’s stoning.
The stoning was the Islamists’ most brutal reported act of repression so far. Refugees from the north have given numerous accounts of public whippings and beatings for alleged violations of Shariah law in the main towns of Timbuktu and Gao.
All of northern Mali, a vast area larger than France, most of it desert, is in the hands of Islamists linked to Al Qaeda, after a rebellion against the Malian government that began in January. The rebellion began as a new iteration of a decades-long struggle by a nomadic ethnic group, the Tuaregs, to gain autonomy from a central government based in the south that it had long accused of neglect and persecution.
But the Tuaregs were soon overtaken by their de facto allies, a local Islamist movement, the Ansar Dine, or Defenders of the Faith, which itself was allied with Al Qaeda. Ansar Dine now controls the region, in alliance with another radical Islamist splinter group, the Mujao, or the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. The groups share the goal of imposing an extreme form of Shariah law on the people of northern Mali.
The official in Aguelhok said the rural couple were heard to protest, faintly, that the children — the youngest a baby of 6 months — were not even theirs. But the men who executed them said the couple had been guilty of a serious crime, and deserved punishment.
“All they said was, it was the law of Shariah that prescribed it, that God willed it,” the official recalled. He said the execution had lasted about 15 minutes, but the woman died quickly, after crying out.
In silence, more than 300 people from the town watched. “The people protested, that no law could possibly prescribe such a thing,” the official said. “On the slightest pretext, they execute people.”
Aguelhok drew notoriety early in the rebellion, in January, as the place where dozens of Malian Army soldiers were apparently summarily executed, according to human rights groups. Some had their hands tied behind their backs and their throats cut.
A protest over the executions by angry soldiers’ wives in the capital, Bamako, in early February was an early sign that the government was in trouble. The government was later brought down by a military junta in a coup d’état at the end of March, allowing the Tuaregs and Islamists to overrun the north.
The south is still in disorder, with the junta still active behind an appointed civilian government whose powers remain uncertain. On Friday, the interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, returned to Bamako from Paris after an absence of over two months following an attack by a mob — some said orchestrated by elements in the military — that left him seriously injured.
In a televised speech on Sunday, Mr. Traoré announced a reorganization of the government with the aim of recovering the troubled nation’s unity.