TIMBUKTU, Mali — Three suspected jihadists arrested in the days since the liberation of Timbuktu said Friday that Malian soldiers were torturing them with a method similar to waterboarding.
The three are being held in an earthen cell in what remains of the military camp in the town, which was freed this week by French and Malian soldiers after nearly 10 months under radical Islamist rule.
Their allegations came as French President Francois Hollande prepared to fly to Mali on Saturday, nearly four weeks after the French-led operation began in the vast West African country.
The three suspects, who were tied together with a turban and one handcuff, all acknowledged to The Associated Press having been members of the al-Qaida-linked group known as Ansar Dine, or Defenders of the Faith.
"To force me to talk they poured 40 liters of water in my mouth and over my nostrils which made it so that I could not breathe anymore. For a moment I thought I was even going to die," said one of the men, who gave his name as Ali Guindo and said he was from a village near the central Malian town of Niono.
"I sleep in the cold and every night they come pour freezing water over me. "
All three prisoners described similar treatment. Their account could not be independently verified. Soldiers holding the three asked reporters to leave after initially allowing journalists to speak with them.
Army Col. Mamary Camara told reporters that the three were arrested by Malian forces in the town of Lere. He said one of the men was from Libya and was caught wearing a foreign military uniform.
The Libyan jihadist was visibly frightened, crouching in a corner of his cell. He gave the AP contradictory information about his background, first saying he was born in a Malian village but of Libyan descent.