Moussa Agh Mohammed prays as he kneels on the ground awaiting his execution. The photo was taken just minutes before he was killed by firing squad. Photo courtesy of Sahara Media journalist Agh Mohamed Othman.
After confessing to having murdered another man, a member of northern Mali’s Islamist movement Ansar Dine was put to death by his own camp in the city of Timbuktu on October 2. Our Observer on the ground was there to photograph the horrifying scene.
A spokesperson for Ansar Dine, which has controlled the northern half of Mali since April, said that Moussa Agh Mohammed turned himself into the Islamic police so that he could take responsibility for his crime. Sentenced to death, Mohammed was executed by firing squad as he kneeled on the ground facing east toward Mecca. Around a hundred people crowded around to watch.
Mohammed is the third person to be executed under Sharia law in northern Mali over the past two months. In July, a couple who had sex out of wedlock were stoned to death by Islamists in the town of Aguelhok.
The incident comes as Ansar Dine and the Islamist Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO, an al Qaeda offshoot with close ties to Ansar Dine) have reportedly stepped up their use of corporal punishment in the areas they control, often sentencing people to beatings or amputation.

"He was a very religious man. Two days later he went to the Islamic police and asked them to punish him according to Sharia law”

Othman Agh Mohamed Othman is a correspondent in Timbuktu for the Mauritania-based Sahara Media website.
I didn’t know Mohammed personally, but I know that he was a Tuareg cattle farmer from a major tribe, and that he joined the Ansar Dine movement one month ago, according to several members of the group. Before that he was a part of the National Movement for the Independence of Azawad [also known as the MNLA, an armed Tuareg rebel movement that fought for northern Mali’s independence. After seizing the northern half of the country with the help of Ansar Dine and MUJAO last spring, the MNLA was driven out of the region by its former allies in June]. In the end, though, he sided with the Islamists. [A correspondent for the news agency AFP also reported that Mohammed was allegedly a former MNLA member].
Two days before he was executed, Mohammed got into a fight with a fisherman around 50 kilometres outside of Timbuktu. The latter accused Mohammed of having trampled his nets. From what I heard about the incident, the fisherman then attacked Mohammed, who shot at him with his Kalashnikov, killing him on the spot.
The murdered fisherman's mother and brother look on just before the execution. Photo courtesy of Sahara Media journalist Agh Mohamed Othman.
Mohammed was a very religious man. Two days later, he turned himself into the Islamic police and asked them to punish him according to Sharia law. The victim’s family came to Mohammed’s execution, and before he was put to death, they were asked if they would forgive him for his crime. It was explained that in exchange, Mohammed’s family would be forced to compensate them for the death of their son. The victim’s mother said that she could not forgive Mohammed, and Ansar Dine was forced to execute one of their own.
“Mohammed’s fellow Ansar Dine members looked moved by his execution”
A lot of people came to the execution, which took place in the centre of the city near the Azalaï hotel. I didn’t feel a great deal of emotion from the crowd. People just stood there and watched as if it were a show. In contrast, the members of Ansar Dine looked moved by the event. Mohammed had close relationships with a number of his peers. But they explained that no one is exempt from Sharia law, and because of that they had no choice but kill him. It was a question of God’s will.
It’s not the first time a member of Ansar Dine has been punished. I remember four recent incidents where people were subjected to beatings after being accused of moral indecency. To my knowledge, though, it is the first time they have put one of their own to death.
Written with the collaboration of Ségolène Malterre, journalist at France 24.