Islamists Cut Off Mali Thief's Hand UN, African Union weigh military intervention By Rob Quinn, Newser Staff Posted Aug 10, 2012 12:57 AM CDT Updated Aug 10, 2012 1:02 AM CDT 25 comments Comments Islamist rebels from the Ansar Dine faction prepare to pray in the desert just outside Gao, Mali. (AP Photo/Diakaridia Dembele) (Newser) – The Islamic rebel groups in control of much of northern Mali are continuing their drive to bring in Sharia law's harsh punishments. In a village near the regional capital Gao, extremists cut off the hand off an alleged thief in front of dozens of witnesses, the BBC reports. "He was a thief. He stole. God has told us to cut off the hands of thieves. It’s in the Koran," said a spokesman for the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, known as Mujao. The group and an allied one called Ansar Dine have controlled close to two-thirds of the country since March. Ansar Dine extremists stoned an unmarried couple to death last month, but an angry crowd managed to prevent Mujao from cutting off another alleged thief's hand earlier this week. Both groups are linked to al-Qaeda, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that Mali is becoming a safe haven for "terrorists and criminals." The UN and the African Union have been holding meetings in the south of the country to discuss possible military intervention. An Ansar Dine spokesman says his group aims to unite the country against the "common enemy," which he describes as non-Muslim "miscreants."