Maddy Crowell in The Point:
There’s a scene early on in the French documentary Salafistes (“Jihadists”) where the camera spans over a throng of people gathered in a village in northern Mali: the crowd is there to watch as the “Islamic Police” cut off a 25-year-old man’s hand. The shot zooms in as the young man, tethered in ropes around a chair, slumps over, unconscious, while his hand is sawed off with a small, serrated blade. Young boys in the background howl incoherently. In the next scene, the same young man is filmed lying in a bed cocooned by a lime green mosquito net, his severed limb wrapped in thick white bandages. “This is the application of sharia,” he tells the camera. “I committed a theft; in accordance with sharia my hand was amputated. Once I recover I will be purified and all my sins erased.” The trace of a drugged smile lingers across his face.
If the uncensored brutality of the mutilation seems gratuitous, it is hardly an anomaly in Salafistes. This is part of the point of a documentary that gained rare and dangerous access to the usually closed-off backyard of jihadi territory. After the amputation, the Islamic Police—members of Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups—surround the young man in a halo of bored silence, as their leader, Sanda Ould Boumama, clutches his shoulder.