Kabul, Afghanistan Ending a three-year moratorium on the death penalty, Afghanistan executed 15 prisoners by gunfire, including a man convicted of killing three foreign journalists during the U.S.-led invasion, the prisons chief announced Monday.
The United Nations protested the executions, which could complicate the missions of some NATO nations here.
The mass execution took place Sunday evening according to Afghan law, which calls for condemned prisoners to be shot to death, said Abdul Salam Ismat, who oversees Afghanistan's prisons.
The crimes committed by those executed included murder, kidnapping and armed robbery, but officials said no Taliban or al-Qaida fighters were among the prisoners.
Until it was ousted in late 2001, Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban regime carried out executions in public, many of them at the Kabul stadium. The new government pledged to the international community it would halt executions, and had carried out only one previously, in 2004.
The 15 deaths could complicate relationships between the government and some NATO countries with military forces here. Foreign troops often hand over captured militants to the Afghan government, raising the question of whether countries that do not use the death penalty might stop surrendering prisoners.
The Netherlands was one of the first to criticize the Afghan announcement, calling the executions "extremely unwelcome."
But it also said Dutch troops would continue to transfer militants to the Afghan government, saying it had an agreement protecting those prisoners from execution.
Anger over the executions also could prove a snag for NATO's efforts to get its member nations to send more troops to Afghanistan. NATO has some 40,000 soldiers here, but commanders complain they need more helicopters, mobile troops and instructors to train the Afghan army.
Tom Koenigs, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said the U.N. had expressed its concern over the use of the death penalty many times in the past.
"The United Nations in Afghanistan has been a staunch supporter of the moratorium on executions observed in Afghanistan in recent years," Koenigs said. "I expect Afghanistan to continue working towards attaining the highest human rights standards and ensuring the due process of law and the rights of all citizens are respected."
The government's official announcement of the executions came on state television Monday evening, saying said Karzai ordered the executions following a decision by a special commission he set up to review rulings by the Supreme Court.
"After all the discussions and after looking back over the cases ... in order to prevent future crimes, such as murders, armed robberies, kidnappings, and to maintain the stability of the country, (Karzai) approved the prisoners' death sentences," a statement read over the news said.
Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, had told The Associated Press last week that Karzai was taking "extreme care in execution cases."
"He has been holding on to these cases because he wants to make sure that the justice is served and the due process is complete. He personally does not like executions, but Afghan law asks for it, and he will obey the laws," Hamidzada said.