Timbuktu Endured Terror Under Harsh Shariah Law
When the Islamist militants came to town, Dr. Ibrahim Maiga made a reluctant deal. He would do whatever they asked — treat their wounded, heal their fevers, bandage up without complaint the women they thrashed in the street for failing to cover their heads and faces. In return, they would allow him to keep the hospital running as he wished.
Then, one day in October, the militants called him with some unusual instructions. Put together a team, they said, bring an ambulance and come to a sun-baked public square by sand dunes.
There, before a stunned crowd, the Islamist fighters carried out what they claimed was the only just sentence for theft: cutting off the thief’s hand. As one of the fighters hacked away at the wrist of a terrified, screaming young man strapped to a chair, Dr. Maiga, a veteran of grisly emergency room scenes, looked away.
“I was shocked,” he said, holding his head in his hands. “But I was powerless. My job is to heal people. What could I do?”
After nearly 10 months of occupation by Islamists fighters, many of them linked with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the people of this ancient mud-walled city recounted how they survived the upending of their tranquil lives in a place so remote that its name has become a synonym for the middle of nowhere.