The black flag of the Ansar Dine Islamic group is posted on a road sign in Kidal in northeastern Mali
The black flag of the Ansar Dine Islamic group is posted on a road sign in Kidal in northeastern Mali in this file photoReuters

An unmarried couple were stoned to death in public by Islamists in the north-east region of Mali, local officials told AFP on Wednesday, 17 May. The incident, which took place on Tuesday, is the first since jihadist groups were driven out of the area.

The stoning took place in Taghlit in the Kidal region, and members of the public were reportedly invited to take part. "Four people threw stones at them until they died," a local official said.

The Islamists had accused the unmarried couple of violating "Islamic law", which mandates punishment by stoning for relationships outside marriage, another local official said.

"The Islamists dug two holes where they put the man and the woman who lived maritally without being married," said a local official. "They were stoned to death."

A local dignitary is quoted by RFI as saying that the man who was stoned was the son of a high-ranking lieutenant of Iyad ag Ghaly, of the Islamist organisation Ansar Dine.

"This lieutenant was one of the instigators of the death of his own son," the source said. "It may seem incredible, but we are seeing every day the extent of the extremism of these people. This is probably a way for this lieutenant to prove his commitment, in the midst of restructuring jihadist groups, and of course to terrorise the populations as much as possible."

The Malian Association for the Defence of Human Rights (AMDH) condemned the stoning, describing it as "cowardly murder". Oumar Diakite, an AMDH official said "This is barbaric. The people who did this should be arrested and put on trial."

The stoning comes on the eve of a visit to Mali by French President Emmanuel Macron, who is due to meet French troops stationed there on Thursday or Friday.

Around 309 people have been killed since the beginning of the year by armed groups, the opposition Parena party noted. They expressed alarm at the deteriorating security situation only two years after the signing of a peace deal, aimed at ending successive uprisings by Tuareg rebels.

In 2012 jihadists had seized some northern cities in the landlocked West African country. Despite being driven out by a French-led military intervention in 2013, the groups continue to make frequent attacks on domestic and foreign forces.

When they had control over the region, the jihadist groups had imposed a version of Sharia law that had forced women to wear veils. They had also sought to punish those who disobeyed the laws by whipping, stoning and mutilation.

A similar incident took place in July 2012, when a couple was stoned in public in Aguelhok by the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine group. The couple were accused of having children outside marriage.