An unmarried couple was publicly stoned to death in eastern Mali, in the first such incident since jihadist groups took control of the area.

"The Islamists dug two pits big enough for the man and woman who lived together but were not married," said a local source. "They were stoned to death."

The execution took place on Tuesday. Local sources added that the public was invited to take part and participate in the stoning. "Four people threw stones at them until they died."

A local resident said the gang leader accused the couple of "violating the laws of Islam," which requires the punishment of death by stoning.

The Human Rights Protection Association described the stoning incident this week as a "cowardly murder."

The stoning event took place on the eve of the visit of the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, in Mali.