Islamist fighters in northern Mali cut the hands and feet off five suspected robbers in the northern city of Gao in what they said was the application of sharia or Islamic law, residents and a hospital official said on Monday.
Armed Islamist groups including the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) have controlled the northern two-thirds of the vast arid nation since April, when they hijacked a rebellion launched by ethnic Tuareg separatists.
MUJWA, which is allied to other al Qaeda-linked Islamist groups, has said it intends to impose sharia throughout Mali. It had already carried out corporal punishments in territory under its control, including public floggings of suspected adulterers. This is the first time it has carried out group amputations.
"I witnessed them cut off the hand and foot of the five young men that MUJWA has been holding for the past months for theft and armed robbery," a relative of one of the suspected thieves told Reuters by telephone.
Oumar Ould Hamaha, speaking on behalf of MUJWA, told Reuters by telephone that the sentence was carried out after an Islamic court found the men guilty on Monday morning.
"According to the sharia, the men had to face double punishment for theft and highway robbery," Hamaha said.
"The sentence for theft is to cut a hand, and the sentence for highway robbery is cutting the opposite leg," he said.
Soumaila Diamoye, a doctor at the hospital in Gao said medical staff had declined a request from the MUJWA to assist them with the amputations.
"We told them that it was not our responsibility to attend to those kinds of things," Diamoye told Reuters.
"Around 1400 GMT, they brought in four amputees each with two of their limbs, a right hand and left foot, cut off. The surgeon has taken steps to stop the bleeding," Diamoye said. He said there was no fifth man brought into hospital.