Bamako (AFP) - The head of an Islamic police brigade deployed by jihadists controlling a northern Mali city in 2012 denied chopping off the hands of suspected thieves, as he stood trial in the capital on Friday.
Aliou Mahamar Toure, the feared former "Islamic police chief" of the city of Gao, appeared in a Bamako court accused of endangering state security and aggravated assault, crimes that rights groups have said did not reflect the gravity of his offences.
Toure was arrested in December 2013 by the Malian army after spreading terror in Gao as one of the most high-profile faces of Al-Qaeda offshoot MUJAO (the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa).
Victims gave gruesome testimony in court to the jury, which Toure listened to with his head bowed.
"He didn't want to release them, he himself cut off their hands and feet. Afterwards he paraded around with the hands and feet," one witness said, describing the fate of his brother's four children.
One person recounted being arrested and drugged by Toure and his henchmen after being accused of stealing. "They cut off my right hand," the victim said.
Toure took the stand wearing a traditional white robe in the presence of at least eight of his victims, an AFP journalist at the court said.
He told the jury he had not cut the hands and feet himself. "It was the Mauritanian, Algerian and Sahrawi jihadists who were cutting hands," Toure, a Malian national, said.
At one point Toure said he was "very ill" and asked to be allowed to sit down.
Rights groups including the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its Malian equivalent said the charge sheet did not mention war crimes or torture, offences they believe Toure committed in his role.
Toure is also accused of firearms offences and criminal conspiracy.
He could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted.
Toure is also accused of whipping women in public for not wearing sufficiently conservative clothing.
Jihadists hijacked a rebellion led by Tuareg separatists in northern Mali to take over key cities until a French-led intervention removed them in early 2013, though they remain active in the area.
Toure was the most senior Malian among the ranks of jihadists in Gao, where many were foreigners.
His trial comes the day after war crimes judges in The Hague found another Malian jihadist liable for 2.7 million euros in personal damages for destroying the northern city of Timbuktu's fabled shrines in 2012.