BAMAKO, Aug 6) – A radio presenter was badly beaten by Islamists occupying the northern Mali town of Gao after he reported on a protest in which they were stopped from cutting off a thief’s hand, hospital sources said Monday.
As the Islamists attempt to deepen their hold on the north of the country, government vowed Monday it was working flat out to win back its territory lost to the extremists, and its commitment to a secular state.
“The presenter Abdoul Malick Maiga, beaten by the Islamists on Sunday night, is still in hospital.
He regained consciousness but is still in intense pain,” a doctor at the hospital told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“I saw him this morning (Monday).
He has scratches on his eye. He explained that the Islamists came to arrest him as he was commenting on the population’s refusal to accept the amputation of a thief’s hand,” he added.
Another doctor said the presenter had been beaten “with a stick by the Islamists who accused him of criticising them.”
Hundreds of people protested on Sunday night in Gao against Maiga’s detention and demanded his release, setting fire to a car belonging to a leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) which controls the town.
The Islamists fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd.
On Saturday MUJAO announced on private radio they would amputate the thief’s hand at a town square, but were met by hundreds of protesters on Sunday who stormed the square, preventing the sentence from being carried out.
According to local sources, the accused was a young MUJAO recruit who had stolen weapons to re-sell them.
“We don’t want to know what this young man did, but they are not going to cut his hand off in front of us,” a resident said on Sunday.
This is the first report of the extremists attempting to carry out an amputation since they occupied the north of the country four months ago, enforcing strict sharia law.
The residents of Gao have kicked back against the occupation, and MUJAO had eased up on the application of sharia after violent anti-Islamist protests in May left one dead.
In the small town of Aguelhok, another armed Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) publicly stoned an unmarried couple to death late last month.
The Islamist groups, which security experts say are acting under the aegis of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), seized key northern cities in the chaos following a coup d’etat in Bamako on March 22.
The embattled west African nation is currently under the stewardship of a transition government which took over from the military junta.
In a statement on Monday government vigorously condemned both the attack on the protester and the attempted amputation, reaffirming its “commitment to freedom of the press as well as the irreversible secularity of the Malian state.”
The government said it was working “flat-out for the total recuperation of the occupied zones and the restoration of the authority of the state.”
Thus far the interim government has stood by helplessly as the extremists deepen their hold on the north.
Mediators from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ordered the interim government to form a more inclusive unity government which would be better equipped to deal with the various crises.
An initial deadline of July 31 was postponed, and it is not clear when the government will be in place.
ECOWAS wants to send a 3,000-strong military force to Mali but is waiting for United Nations approval and a formal request from a more inclusive government.
France has said an African military intervention was “desirable and inevitable” but Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the former colonial power would not take the lead.
In neighbouring Mauritania, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz ruled out sending troops to Mali but said his country would support international efforts to restore peace.
“There will be no Mauritanian military intervention in Mali,” he said on Monday. “The problem there is very complex and we don’t have the solution.”
Abdel Aziz warned against “the terrorist risk which will grow and can be a catastrophe for the entire world.”
“We saw this problem coming, we said it and history proved us right,” Abdel Aziz added, underlining the role of his army which has carried out raids against AQIM bases in Mali to protect his country against their attacks.