The documents also show clear evidence of the international nature of the extremist takeover of northern Mali. The top Islamic judge, Muhammad bin al-Hussain, used a mobile phone with a Libyan number. In other notebooks, two more Libyan telephone numbers were found next to names of, presumably, commanders. Two telephone numbers from Algeria also appear among the notes.
Each case gives a unique view of how strict Islamic law was applied during al Qaeda's short-lived Islamic state. While the rulers of the "emirate of Timbuktu" were certainly brutal and repressive, they also took care to establish a government built to last -- one with functioning institutions that at times even protected residents against their own loyalists.
In one court session, titled Case Number 8, the judges consider the fate of a man named Abu Bakr Burkina. He is one of their own fighters who stands accused of having raped a girl in Timbuktu. The court paper, dated Aug. 27, 2012, reads: "After listening to his saying he [Abu Bakr Burkina] admitted that he committed adultery with the girl after having threatened to take her to the police headquarters late at night. He carried his gun. And all this evidence confirmed what the girl has said earlier."
On the same document the punishment is written down: "Based on everything, we sentence Abu Bakr Burkina to the following: a. 100 lashes because he is not married but single. b. Banishment for one year (that will take place in prison). c. The girl is not to be punished as she was forced."
Another court case, on Aug. 16, 2012, details harsh punishment against someone discovered drinking alcohol. "The judges sentence Ibrahim bin al-Hussain to 40 lashes and paying of 50.000 CFA [$100] after he admitted to drinking wine and selling it in his shop. Also his shop will be closed temporarily by the Islamic police."
Women were also lashed, as Case Number 29, on Oct. 15, 2012, suggests. "Assia bint Omar came in front of us," states the document, "And we sentenced her to 60 lashes due to her mixing with men and the usage of foul words. She however denied that she committed any crime."
Many cases deal with marriage problems and matters of divorce. Not surprisingly, in most cases the judge tended to agree with the man, not the woman.
"In front of us stood Daham Ould el Radi who lives in Timbuktu," reads one sentencing, "He could not continue with his wife, who is called Bibi bint Osman. So we decided to separate them and the wife pays 100.000 CFA [$200]."
In cases where a woman wanted a divorce, the court was much more hesitant to act -- even when the female was a minor.
"Ahmad bin Mido is asking us to make it possible for him to consume his rights [that is, to have sex] with his wife Fatima bint Abdu who he married when she was still young," reads one document, "During the secular regime of Mali, he was punished with imprisonment and with paying a fine. The wife mentions now to us that she hates him due to his bad treatment of her."
Although the wife -- who is a minor -- hates the husband, the court decides in favor of him. "a. The man above can consummate with his wife. She should obey him and give him his [sexual] rights," reads the sentence. But there is a small compromise: "Due to the fear of the wife for her husband and her hatred for him we have decided to keep the wife at her parents' house. He can visit her there and try to build bridges and gain her back."
The court's ruling wasn't an outlier -- rather, it was an expression of the Islamist radicals' view of women as second-class citizens. Another document found at the Timbuktu police headquarters laid out the required dress code for women: The leaflet featured a picture of a faceless woman dressed in a black Islamic dress. This is the dress code for women, the text in Arabic and French explains. According to the document, the dark clothes must cover the full body. It may not be transparent. It must be large enough to avoid showing body shapes. It must not be colorful. It cannot be modern. The clothes must not look like those of a man, nor like those of unbelievers. And, lastly, it is forbidden to use perfume.
Al Qaeda and its allies were not only establishing their version of a Taliban state in northern Mali -- they were doing so systematically, transforming daily life to conform to their harsh interpretation of Islamic law. If they had not been driven out by military force, there is every reason to believe they would have succeeded.