Islamist horror via single anonymous source

A horrible story came out of Aguelhok, Mali, in recent days. It was reported by a variety of outlets, but I wanted to highlight the way the New York Times reported it. Headlined, "Islamists in North Mali Stone Couple to Death," here's how it begins:

Islamists in control of a town in northern Mali stoned a couple to death after accusing them of having children outside of marriage, a local official who was one of several hundred witnesses to the killings said Monday.

The official said the bearded Islamists, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, brought the couple into the center of the town of Aguelhok from about 12 miles away in the countryside. The young man and woman were forced into holes about four feet deep, with their heads protruding, and then stoned to death at about 5 a.m. Sunday, the official said.

“They put them into the holes, and then they started throwing big rocks, until they were dead,” the official said, speaking by satellite phone from the remote desert town near the Algerian border.

“It was horrible,” he said, noting that the woman had moaned and cried out and that her partner had yelled something indistinct during the attack. “It was inhuman. They killed them like they were animals.”

The official insisted that he not to be identified because he said “our lives are in danger here.” The official said many of the 2,000 people in Aguelhok had already begun leaving, crossing the border into Algeria, as a result of Sunday’s stoning.

It's just a sickening report. And it's well written. We learn that there have been reports of other repression and that "refugees from the north" have given numerous accounts of public whippings and beatings for sharia violations in Timbuktu and Gao.

We're told about Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith), the local Islamist group that controls the region in alliance with the Mujao (Movement for Oneness and Jihad). Their goal is imposing "an extreme form" of sharia.

The couple said the children weren't even theirs but the executioners said they were guilty and they stoned them while 300 people from the town watched. We get some more info on the turmoil the country has seen since January.

But every single quote in this story comes from one person. And we don't actually know who that person is because he's anonymous and identified simply as an official.

Because of how widely reported this story is -- with other sourcing at different outlets -- I am not seriously in doubt over its veracity. However, a single anonymous source doesn't strike me as sufficient for the piece. I almost assume that the reporter had other corroboration for the event but just didn't tell us what it was.

And the other thing that might be helpful to find out is what in particular separates the Islamist groups in power from those groups that aren't in power. I think the story does an excellent job of showing us what the extremists envision under sharia. But what do those outside of Ansar Dine want? We can infer that they would not behead individuals on the slightest pretext. But what has been the traditional punishment in the region, if any, for others in similar situations? Could those distinctions be fleshed out a bit better?

Brief reports on the story can be found here, here, and here.

Anonymous man photo via Shutterstock.

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