"It was unbelievable. The young man, he just followed calmly," said Toure. "He had his eyes closed with a bandage. ... He put out his hand to be cut, then he put out his foot to be cut. ... He didn't cry out, he didn't even move. It's my impression that they must have drugged him — if not how can you accept to let someone cut off your limbs?"
One of the doctors who helped treat the amputees, said the Islamists initially came to the hospital and asked the medics to carry out the amputations.
"We categorically refused," said the doctor, whose name is being withheld by AP out of concern for his safety.
The fighters left, and returned sometime later, carrying in the five young men who were trailing blood, he said.
"We could see that their feet had been badly amputated. They were in indescribable pain. You could read that on their faces," the doctor said. "To treat them, we were forced to break the bones in their feet, so that the skin could cover the bone, which was poking out."
Last week, the government in Bamako, which still controls the southern half of Mali, asked the 15 nations in western Africa for military help to take back the north. Radical militants in northern Mali were drawing disaffected youth from other countries, warned the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, in an opinion piece published in The New York Times titled "Why Mali Matters?" The situation in Mali threatens to create an arc of instability across the neck of Africa, he said.
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."
Callimachi contributed from Dakar, Senegal.
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