Islamists in Mali: Cigarette is Satin, 40 lashes as punishment
BAMAKO - Islamists from an Al-Qaeda offshoot in northern Mali have confiscated and burned cartons of cigarettes and whipped those caught smoking as they enforce strict Islamic law, witnesses said Friday.
"Things really got lively on Friday, Islamists from MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) took cartons of cigarettes that were on sale and set them alight," said Moussa Guindo, who works for the town council in Bourem.
A youth from the north Mali town, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "I received 40 lashes because I was smoking and continued to smoke after I was told not to."
A civil servant in the town, also asking not to be named, said he was whipped even though he was not smoking.
"It was my friend who was smoking but they whipped both of us saying that the cigarette is Satan. Shopkeepers who still have cigarettes hide them and to smoke, you have to hide," he said.
Two other residents of the town said that members of MUJAO had stopped a truck transporting cigarettes between the towns of Gao and Bourem, and set the cartons alight.
"At the moment it is the Islamists who are laying down the law here. They don't want to see cigarettes and have told us that if foreign troops come to northern Mali they will slit all of our throats," said another witness Mohamed Tangara.
MUJAO along with Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have occupied northern Mali along with Tuareg rebels since a coup on March 22 plunged the country into chaos.
They want an Islamic state with strict sharia law and have already forbidden smoking, and forced women to wear veils, in other northern cities.