Investigation: Malian army accused of carrying out summary executions
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In a single day, buildings were reduced to ashes, motorcycles were destroyed and people were killed and buried in the town of Nia Ouro, located in central Mali. Our team established what happened in this village on January 4, 2022, using videos that we verified, satellite images and an eyewitness account from our Observer. He says that the Malian army was responsible for the death and destruction.
The first report of this attack came in the form of a video posted on Twitter by a user on January 9. It shows a destroyed granary, next to the burnt hull of a cart. The caption reads, “The face of Nia-Ouro after FAMa [The Malian Armed Forces] passes through”.
Another social media user then shared additional videos with our team explaining that they showed Nia Ouro after the attack. The nine videos he sent us showed charred motorcycles and carts as well as granaries burnt to the ground. The footage also shows locals digging up two freshly buried bodies, at least one of whom has his hands tied behind his back. There are several landmarks that appear in multiple videos, indicating they were filmed in the same place.
French media outlets RFI and Libération both reported that Malian soldiers were suspected of carrying out an attack in Nia Ouro on January 4, 2022. RFI published the news on January 7, and Libération the next day.
The afternoon of January 4, the Malian NGO Kisal, which focuses on the protection and development of human rights in the Sahel, posted a message about the attack on Facebook.
“This Tuesday, January 4, 2022, which coincides with the weekly market in Sofara, individuals wearing military uniforms – who said that they were Malian soldiers posted to the camp in Sofara – stormed the town of Nia Ouro, men were systematically tied up and beaten according to reports from villagers and several motorcycles were burned.”
Our team contacted a Belgian human rights worker with an organisation that is active in the region. She told our team that she recognised a man in one of the videos. She said that he is from Nia Ouro and acted as her guide during one of her trips there. She also says that she got confirmation that the videos were, indeed, filmed in Nia Ouro.
'We found the four bodies. They each had their hands tied behind their backs and a gunshot wound to the head'
Our team also spoke to a man from Nia Ouro, who witnessed part of the attack. Diallo (not his real name) is a young man who has lived his whole life in the village. Late on the afternoon of January 3, 2022, he and his friend saw some vehicles coming towards the town.
"We saw lots of military vehicles park on the outskirts of the village, then saw men getting out. They were dressed like Malian soldiers. They spent the night outside of Nia Ouro.
The next day, around 9am, I headed to the market in Sofara [Editor’s note: 10 km to the west of Nia Ouro]. I was with around a dozen people. Almost as soon as we left the village, the men dressed like Malian soldiers stopped us. There were about a dozen of us and they made us sit down. They looked at our NINA cards [Editor’s note: a Malian identity card] then they threw them on the ground. Thank God, they let me leave, I still have no idea why.
When I came back from the Sofara market, around 1pm, there were a lot of homes that were burned down as well as granaries. Food had been stolen as well. Of the eight people who had been arrested earlier in the day, four were found dead and four are still missing. We found the four bodies. They each had their hands tied behind their backs and a gunshot wound to the head."
To verify the videos, we asked our Observer to send us another video of the destruction in Nia Ouro. We were able to identify landmarks and other clues present in the two videos.
Using the video sent to us by our Observer, we were able to determine the exact location in Nia Ouro where buildings were burned down.
The destruction carried out by the men wearing the uniforms of Malian soldiers appear in these satellite images. NASA’s FIRMS system, which detects fires by looking at satellite images, picked up two fires in Nia Ouro on January 4, 2022. The system didn’t pick up any fires during the seven days before or after.
According to Boubakar Ba, a researcher at a research centre called the Centre of Analysis on Governance and Security in the Sahel, the villagers living in Nia Ouro, most of whom are from the Fulani ethnic group, are sometimes trapped in the middle of escalating tensions.
“They are trapped between multiple ‘fires’: the jihadists, the FAMa [Malian army] and local militias with close ties to the government who sometimes work with the FAMa," he explained.
Our Observer from Nia Ouro says he has no idea why the men dressed as Malian soldiers did this:
The people killed included two herders, a market vendor and a man from the neighbouring village. We don’t know why they did that. I’m afraid. Everyone here is afraid. Some people have fled the village since the attack on January 4. But I don’t want to go, I have family that lives here.
A statement was published by the spokesperson of the Malian Army the day after the attack on Nia Ouro, saying: "On January 4, 2022, the FAMa unit thwarted another coordinated terrorist action in the Nia Ouro sector, Sofara region. Fifteen armed motorcyclists were seen coming from the Sama forest and were intercepted and neutralised."
The Major General of the Malian Army did not respond to our requests for an interview, communicated both in writing and as a voice message.