KABUL- Five men convicted of a gang-rape and armed robbery in the Paghman district of Kabul province of Afghanistan and a notorious criminal Habib Istalif were hanged today, an official said.

An official at the Attorney General's Office said the five men and the notorious serial killer Istalif were executed at the Pul-i-Charkhi prison in the afternoon. The men were brought in ambulances to the prison under tight security measures. Journalists were invited to the prison but were barred from

entering the premises. Former President Hamid Karzai had approved and signed the execution order

for the five rapists and Islatif before leaving office last month.

Police had arrested eight men in the gang-rape case that took place in August in the Paghman district near the capital Kabul. The men, some dressed in police uniforms, stopped a family's car returning

from a wedding and sexually assaulted four of the women in the family, including one who was pregnant. Three of the suspects remain at large. Thefive were convicted and sentenced to death amid criticism from the UN and rights groups.

Istalif had been convicted of numerous crimes, including murders, armed clashes with security forces, kidnappings and his links to international mafia groups. The Attorney General Office (AGO) had said that 10 people were involved in the rape incident and seven of them had been arrested.

A primary court handed death sentences to all the seven detainees but a higher court converted the death sentences of two of them into 20 years in jail. The trial was criticized by the United Nations and rights' groups amid a nationwide outcry over the incident. They were found guilty at a nationally-televised trial that lasted only two hours, and the sentences were quickly confirmed by the appeals court and the Supreme Court.

But the court process raised major concerns, with the UN high commissioner for human rights and Amnesty International calling for President Ashraf Ghani, who was sworn in last week, to stay the death penalties.

"The proceedings risk denying adequate justice to both the victims of this terrible crime and the accused," the UN agency said in a statement. Amnesty said the trials had been hurried, giving lawyers little time to

prepare the defence. It was only nine days between the arrests and the handing down of death sentences by the primary court. "The trials have been marred by inconsistencies, un-investigated torture

claims and political interference," Amnesty said.