Survivors of an armed raid claim that mercenaries from Putin's private army sexually assaulted a dozen women and girls, including at least one as young as 15 years old, and humiliated them by filming their naked bodies with smartphones following the assault.
The Wagner Group is ostensibly providing advisory services in Mali, but human rights violations and massacres continue to be linked to paramilitaries employed by President Putin's close ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is also a key player in the invasion of Ukraine.
One of the victims told The Daily Beast that a Russian paramilitary shot her in the head when she refused to disrobe, causing her to lose consciousness. She regained consciousness and found herself naked on the ground alongside approximately five other naked women.
"We were surrounded by white soldiers," said Maryam, 23, whose real name The Daily Beast has decided not to reveal. Some of them were photographing us with their cell phones.
According to witnesses, the attack began around 8 a.m. on September 4 in the village of Nia Oura in the central Mopti region of Mali. Diarra, 30, told The Daily Beast that he was preparing to leave for his farm when Russian mercenaries, accompanied by soldiers from the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA) and hunters from the traditional Dozo fraternity, stormed his compound and opened fire.
"As they were shooting, they were calling us traitors and claiming we were collaborating with terrorists to attack them," said Diarra, who, like two other witnesses, The Daily Beast identifies only by his first name to protect him from potential retribution. They repeatedly stated that they'll deal with us.
Diarra claims that after roughly 30 minutes of sporadic gunfire, the infamous Wagner Group paramilitaries ordered the arrest of the men in the compound, leaving only women and children behind.
"The white soldiers ordered FAMA and the Dozo hunters to take all the men to Sofara [a town located 6 miles from Wagner's central base in Nia Oura]," said Diarra, who escaped to the nearby bush with two other men after hearing the Russians order their arrest. I heard a white soldier yell, "Leave the women for us!"
As Diarra and his two neighbors returned to their homes after hiding from the invaders for more than two hours, they reported hearing women screaming in the compound as Wagner mercenaries raped and abused them. Before entering the compound, the three men waited on the road until they were confident the Russians had departed.
"When we returned, the women were crying," Diarra said. Some of them were stained with blood.
There were approximately 12 women and girls in the compound, according to Diarra, who stated that all of them had been sexually assaulted by Wagner paramilitaries, who then lined them up and filmed the victims while they were naked.
Diarra stated, "The women said the white soldiers stripped them naked, raped them, and then used their smartphones to record the women's naked bodies." "The women reported being treated as animals,"
Since Wagner paramilitaries, deployed on a series of offensives against Islamist extremists, arrived in Mali late last year after striking a lucrative deal with the country's new military junta, they have been repeatedly linked to several atrocities throughout the troubled nation. According to the Daily Beast, many of the men who fought for Wagner in Africa have been transferred to the illegal conflict in Ukraine.
Since the beginning of 2022, the NGO Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) reported in August that close to 500 civilians had perished in incidents involving Malian forces and Wagner. The most heinous event occurred in March in the village of Moura, where mercenaries from the private military company massacred approximately 300 men over four days.
Seydou, a 37-year-old survivor of the raid, told The Daily Beast that he was arrested by Dozo hunters who accused him of working for jihadists, blindfolded him, and detained him at Wagner's Sofara base until they were convinced he had no ties to Islamist extremists. When he returned home, he allegedly discovered that the Russians had sexually assaulted his 15-year-old cousin.
"My cousin told me that two white soldiers raped her in her own room in front of their fellow soldiers," said Seydou, who had been detained for five hours. After that, photographs of her naked body were taken.
According to a local trader who witnessed the incident, Wagner mercenaries gathered another group of women in a compound near a primary school and ordered them to disrobe before taking photographs, not far from where Seydou and his cousin live.
"The women who did not immediately comply with the order to disrobe were beaten by the white soldiers and their clothes were torn to shreds," said Boubakar, who witnessed the event from the window of his living room, which faced the compound where it occurred. It was a heartbreaking sight to behold.
The Malian government and Prigozhin did not respond to The Daily Beast's request for comment on allegations of rape and abuse against women in Nia Oura. Emails sent to the Malian government spokesperson and Concord Management, a majority-owned company by Prigozhin, went unanswered.
A thousand or more Russian paramilitaries, according to Malian authorities, are merely instructors and are not deployed in combat roles. The government maintains its silence regarding the atrocities in Nia Oura.
Locals opine that the Wagner Group's infliction of misery on them may never cease.
"My cousin has been traumatized for weeks and weeps daily," Seydou explained. I hope she can recover one day.