Jihadists seized key northern cities in Mali in March 2012 and though they were driven out by a French-led military intervention in 2013, Islamist groups continue to make their presence felt with frequent attacks. (Image source: Flickr) Photograph: (Others)
An unmarried couple were stoned to death in public in northeast Mali by "Islamists", local officials told AFP on Wednesday, the first such incident since jihadist groups were driven out of the region.
Jihadists seized key northern cities in Mali in March 2012, and though they were driven out by a French-led military intervention in 2013, Islamist groups continue to make their presence felt with frequent attacks on domestic and foreign forces.
"The Islamists dug two holes where they put the man and the woman who lived maritally without being married," said a local official. "They were stoned to death."
The stoning happened in Taghlit on Tuesday, close to Aguelhok in the Kidal region, and the same source told AFP that members of the public were invited to take part.
"Four people threw stones at them until they died," they said.
Another local official said the Islamists had accused the unmarried couple of violating "Islamic law", which requires punishment by stoning.
During their brief control of key towns in the vast north, jihadist groups imposed a version of Sharia law which forced women to wear veils and set whipping and stoning as punishment for transgressions.
In July 2012, the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine group stoned a couple in public in Aguelhok who they accused of having children outside marriage.
The stoning comes on the eve of an expected visit to Mali by French President Emmanuel Macron, who is due to meet French troops stationed there on Thursday or Friday.
The Malian Association for the Defence of Human Rights (AMDH) described the stoning as "cowardly murder".
"This is barbaric. The people who did this should be arrested and put on trial," said Oumar Diakite, an AMDH official.
UN rapid intervention force
A 2015 peace deal signed by Tuareg-led rebels, the government and pro-Bamako militias aimed to quell separatist uprisings in the north and isolate jihadist groups.
But its implementation has been piecemeal and the jihadists, who did not sign up to the accord, continue to mount attacks on civilians and the army, as well as French and UN forces.
The new UN peacekeeping chief said a rapid intervention force of Senegalese troops would soon be deployed in central Mali, which has seen an increase in attacks and communal violence since 2015.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, on his first visit to Mali since becoming under-secretary general for UN peacekeeping operations, said the UN mission lacked capacity.
"We are hopeful that, soon, a number of reinforcements will arrive, which will make up for these shortcomings," he said.
The UN mission, known by its acronym MINUSMA, has been stationed in the west African country since 2013 and is considered the world body's most dangerous active peacekeeping deployment.
The opposition Parena party meanwhile noted that 309 people had been killed since the beginning of the year by armed groups, describing "alarm at the deterioration of the security situation" two years after the signing of the peace deal.