MALI

Two teens lynched by Mali vigilante mob may have been innocent

Two Arab teenagers were brutally murdered by a lynch mob in the northern Malian city of Gao just hours after five people died in an attack in the capital Bamako on Saturday. The victims were burned alive, then disembowelled by a crowd that accused them of throwing a grenade at a police station. But the mob - hungry for vigilante justice - may have killed two innocent people.

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Screen grab from an amateur video showing two teenagers being lynched

Two Arab teenagers were brutally murdered by a lynch mob in the northern Malian city of Gao just hours after five people died in an attack in the capital Bamako on Saturday. The victims were burned alive, then disembowelled by a crowd that accused them of throwing a grenade at a police station. But the mob - hungry for vigilante justice - may have killed two innocent people.

The following version of events is based on a security source that gathered testimony from witnesses: Towards the end of Saturday morning, 15-year-old Omar Ould Sidiya and 17-year-old Hamdiya Ould Atiyib parked their motorbike around 150 metres from a police station in front of a small shop. The pair went inside to order something to eat. Barely minutes after the youths had finished their meal and left the restaurant, assailants threw a grenade into a nearby police station. Although no one was injured, panic-stricken people fled the scene en masse. That's when the two youths were spotted running towards their motorbike. What followed was a grotesque scene of barbaric vigilante justice: the two were beaten, burned alive, and disembowelled.

"Some opened their stomachs and pulled out their organs as if they were trophies"

Sanoussi is a footballer who lives in Gao.

I live around 200 metres away from where the explosion happened. When I heard the noise of the blast, I headed towards it and saw a huge crowd laying into two men. Both of them were already on the ground: people beat them with wooden sticks, threw rocks at them, then someone poured petrol on them and burned them alive... Once they were dead, some opened their stomachs and pulled out their organs as if they were trophies. Others cut their fingers off and children started playing with them. The police finally turned up and tried to put an end to the macabre scene by gathering up the scattered organs and taking away the bodies.

France 24 has chosen to show only screen grabs from a video filmed by a Gao resident, which shows extreme and graphic violence.

WARNING: THESE IMAGES MAY SHOCK VIEWERS

At the start of the video, several men are seen running toward the two teenagers. Some are holding long sticks

A few metres away, one of the victims is on the ground. A man beats him with his stick

The teenager is then dragged on the ground

Both men now laying side by side, a crowd forms around them. They appear nearly unconscious

The men are doused in gas and lit on fire. A man continues to hit them with a stick

The mob lets the two men burn to death, and then tears their bodies apart

There are serious doubts as to whether the two men killed in such a horrifying manner even threw the grenade. According to the same security source, Omar Ould Sidiya and Hamdiya Ould Atiyib "were known in the city for being troublemakers, small-time delinquents". The source concedes that there is a "strong possibility that the mob targeted the wrong people" and made a mistake. In a neighbourhood where Arabs are rarely seen, their presence would have been glaringly obvious. Despite the fact that the attack in Bamako had already been claimed by Al Mourabitoun, an African jihadist group that operates mainly in northern Mali, the crowd may have taken the two youths to be terrorists. Several of our Observers say they're convinced that these barbaric murders are a by-product of the outright racism that exists between blacks and Arabs in Gao.

"During each outburst of violence, Arabs are always blamed and taken to be terrorists"

Mamadou (not his real name) lives in Gao.

Each time that there's an outburst of violence in Gao, many blacks accuse Arabs of being behind it. They're always likened to terrorists. But many things make me doubt whether these two young men were actually guilty of anything. A terrorist who carries out an attack is usually armed and capable of defending himself. That clearly wasn't the case here. In my opinion, the two were fleeing along with everyone else in the panic-stricken crowd. On top of that, on Sunday there were day-long meetings between high-level representatives. The mayor of Gao, civic leaders and army leaders presented their condolences to representatives of the Arab community. Yet if it were true that the lynch mob had killed two terrorists, I doubt they would have made these gestures.

Authorities and most witnesses contacted by FRANCE 24 in Gao were quick to condemn the grotesque killings. They also regretted the fact that the crowd had not simply handed the two over to the police. All sides have called for more dialogue between Gao's various communities, in particular between Songhays and Arabs, to ensure that such barbaric scenes never happen again [Editor's note: Songhay-speaking people live mainly in Niger and Mali].

For another one of our Observers, the crowd's reaction - although inexcusable - is a sign that people are fed-up with the behaviour of the Malian army and the justice system's shameful record.

"Many of those found guilty of working with jihadist groups were either released or served short sentences"

Abderahmane (not his real name) lives in Gao.

The situation has been getting tenser in Gao for several months now. First of all, many residents reckon that the Malian army isn't doing its job properly. Although checkpoints have been thrown up around the entrance to the town, it's normal to see soldiers letting people through without identity checks in exchange for bribes. So basically anybody can get in. Others say that terrorists aren't being properly tracked, and that the Malian army and Minusma [Editor's note: the United Nations peace-keeping mission responsible for overlooking Mali's political process] aren't coordinating with each other.

On top of that, a general mistrust of the justice system reigns amongst the habitants of Gao. Many of those who have been accused of working - voluntarily or by coercion - with Mujao and other jihadist groups were either released or only served short sentences. Most of the time, authorities blame a "lack of evidence". Yet at the same time, many residents have provided compelling testimony against these same people - some of whom raped, pillaged, and wrecked the town.

A general lack of confidence in the justice system is often cited as one of the reasons behind the murder of presumed criminals by lynch mobs. The Observers has already documented several similar cases of vigilante justice.

Contacted by FRANCE 24, the Gao police vowed to open an investigation into whether the two slaughtered youths were guilty or not of having thrown the grenade. It also promised to find out who in the crowd was behind the horrific murder of the young men.

Post written with France 24 journalist Corentin Bainier (@cbainier).