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President Hamid Karzai has signed off on the execution of 16 Afghan prisoners, a rare move in the country in the years since the end of the mass public executions favored under the Taliban's rule.
Half of the prisoners, convicted of crimes including murder, rape, kidnapping and treason, were hanged on Tuesday afternoon, according to Nasrullah Stanekzai, a legal adviser to the president. The remaining eight were to be executed on Wednesday.
Under Afghan law, the president must personally approve all executions, and Mr. Karzai has been relatively reluctant to do so, signing off on just three cases in the past decade. "The president issued the order after long and deep evaluation of the prisoners' dossiers by the legal board," said Mr. Stanekzai, who added that the president was willing to issue further execution orders as necessary.
The move comes as Mr. Karzai's administration has been asserting more independence from Western advisers, particularly when it comes to the justice and detention system. Outcry over violent crime has also been increasing, and some analysts saw the executions as an attempt by Mr. Karzai to appear responsive.
"There is more public demand for the death penalty because the rate of crime is increasing," said Nader Naderi, a former commissioner for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "At the same time, we do know there are issues in our judicial system for a free and fair trial to be convened."
The last government executions in Afghanistan took place in June 2011, when two men convicted of the mass killings at a Kabul Bank branch in the eastern city of Jalalabad were hanged. Before that, the Karzai government executed 15 inmates by firing squad in October 2007 and conducted a single execution in 2004.
Some human rights advocates have pushed for a moratorium on executions, arguing that the judicial process is flawed even after improvements made by the Afghan Justice Ministry and some provincial- level courts in recent years.
Separate from the executions on Tuesday, a military court denied an appeal from an Afghan Army soldier, Abdul Sabor, who had been sentenced to death for killing five French soldiers during an insider attack in January.
Such attacks have picked up sharply over the past year, in which members of Afghan security forces have been involved in the deaths of 60 NATO service members.
The violence has deeply shaken the trust between Afghan forces and the Westerners helping to train them by the time the international troop withdrawal is to be complete in 2014.
The French officially ended their 11-year combat mission in Afghanistan on Tuesday, shifting 500 soldiers from the restive Kapisa region to Kabul. Of the 2,200 French soldiers currently in Afghanistan, 1,000 will remain long enough to help repatriate military equipment.
About 500 troops will stay longer to help operate the Kabul airport and train Afghan soldiers. The rest will return to France in the coming weeks, Lt. Col. Guillaume Leroy said.
A suicide bomber made his way into a heavily guarded side street deep in the main diplomatic neighborhood of the Afghan capital early Wednesday and detonated his explosive vest when Afghan security guards demanded his identification, Jawad Sukhanyar and Alissa J. Rubin reported from Kabul.
The blast killed three security guards and wounded two civilians, according to police officials.
Col. Dur Muhammed of Police District 10, who confirmed the deaths, said that the bomber was accompanied by another man. A second police officer, who was not authorized to speak to the news media, and witnesses said both men were wearing private security uniforms and suicide vests.
The three private security guards worked for Burhan Security Company and guarded the Kabul Compound guest house, which is used by U.S. government employees, police officials said.