Issa Alzouma made a living from digging gravel for construction companies until they cut off his hand.

Arrested last December on suspicion of stealing a motorbike that he says was his anyway, he was brought before the Sharia court in Gao and sentenced to amputation.

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Over the last two days, I’ve had something of a tour of the justice system the Mujao, Movement for Jihad and Unity, installed in Gao, Mali, during their nine months of rule. They took over what used to be the mayor’s office and turned it into the  “justice or hesbah” centre.
Two men, accused of homosexuality, who were supposed to be executed last Friday, showed me the room they were taken to be tied and beaten. On the floor I found a file with lists of names – these were the women who had been whipped for failing to wear the veil, and the men punished for smoking.

A large airless room in the back of the compound became the Sharia court. Here they and other prisoners were brought to sit in front of two or three Islamic judges who they call marabouts. They said that the judges were mainly Pakistanis and some Tunisians and the whole proceedings were overseen by the Moroccan jihadi in charge of the town, known as Abdel Karim. As the judges passed sentence, a crowd of jihadi supporters behind them watched. Some of the women were flogged right there in the court house. A black patch in front marks the place where cigarettes were ground into the sand and smokers whipped. A few yards away is the stadium where the residents of Gao once watched basketball and were now forced to come to watch amputations.

One of the most disturbing things I’ve learnt is that those condemned to these harsh punishments were all black Malians – Songhai, Peul, Bamba, and Bella, traditionally the slaves of the Tuareg. The jihadis were a mixture of Malian Arabs and Tuaregs as well as many foreign jihadis.

“They would never do this to one of their own,” said Issa.

He still has bandages on the stump of his right arm where it was cut below the elbow and on his left arm he has looped a black plastic bag full of antibiotics and other medicines given to him by the doctor at the hospital.

As we were talking, his friend Algalas Yatara turned up. His stump seems to have healed slightly better, but like Issa, he still feels like a useless man. It’s not just the pain. It’s the knowledge that these men can no longer support their families.

Their only hope is that now the jihadis who sentenced them to such cruel punishments have left town, maybe some medical organisation will come back to Gao and help them.

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