Mali’s military, already under fire for a coup earlier this year, is facing another public relations nightmare tonight, following news that soldiers in Diabaly killed 16 clerics from the moderate Dawa Islamist sect, including 12 Mauritanians.
The official story from the military, which is promising a full investigation, is that the 16 were attacked and killed after “failing to stop” at a checkpoint. Officials say they just assumed the clerics were members of the al-Qaeda linked Ansar Dine faction at the time because many of them had long beards. They were on the way to a religious conference at the time.
That story seems bad enough, but the version from Malian police is even worse. The police say that the clerics did stop at the checkpoint and were promptly arrested by the military, which then marched them out of town before executing them all.
The Dawa sect are deeply religious, but overwhelmingly non-violent, and are marked primarily by their efforts to proselytize among other sects as well as other religions for converts. In Mali, the Dawa have gained considerable popularity among Tuaregs.