An unmarried couple were stoned to death in public in northeast Mali by “Islamists”, local officials revealed, the first such incident since jihadist groups were driven out of the region.

Jihadists seized key northern cities in March 2012, and though they were driven out by a French-led military intervention in 2013, Islamist groups continue to make their presence felt with frequent attacks on domestic and foreign forces.

“The Islamists dug two holes where they put the man and the woman who lived maritally without being married,” said a local official. “They were stoned to death.”

The stoning happened in Taghlit on Tuesday, close to Aguelhok in the Kidal region, and the same source told AFP that members of the public were invited to take part.

“Four people threw stones at them until they died,” they said.

Another local official said the Islamists had accused the unmarried couple of violating “Islamic law”, which requires punishment by stoning.

During their brief control of key towns in the vast north, jihadist groups imposed a version of Sharia law which forced women to wear veils and set whipping, stoning and mutilation as punishment for transgressions.