Islamic police said they used a stage in a public square to amputate the right hand and left foot of five accused thieves in a city of Mali on Monday, in the latest application of Sharia law in the country's north.

That region of Mali, an area the size of Texas or France, was overrun by rebels allied with al-Qaida five months ago.

Despite a loud outcry from the international community and protests from locals, the Islamists have applied an extreme interpretation of Islam, and have stoned to death an adulterous couple, cut off the hand of another thief and publicly whipped people accused of other transgressions.

Monday's amputations occurred in the northern city of Gao, said Aliou Hamahar Toure, its Islamic police commissioner.

He told The Associated Press by telephone that the five victims had held up passenger buses leaving the city, including those belonging to the popular fleet owned by Rimbo Transport. In accordance with Shariah law, they each their right hand and left foot cut off. They were then transferred to the Gao hospital, Toure said.

He claimed the accused thieves did not scream when their limbs were hacked off with a large knife. "They just said, 'Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar! ('God is Great') until it was over. Then we took them to the hospital, where they are now receiving intensive care," said Toure.

Ibrahim Toure, a resident of Gao who is not related to the police commissioner, said he was passing by the square just after the amputations and saw children carrying buckets of water to wash away the blood.

"There was blood everywhere," said Toure, who described how the children also were trying to carry bags of sand in order to soak up the liquid.

The amputations took place in a public square in Gao known as Place de l'Independence, or Independence Place. The five victims were brought onto the stage, but unlike at past applications of Shariah law the Islamists had not publicly announced the punishment beforehand, and had blocked people from gathering to see it, said Toure.

Gao has seen some of the most intense protests against Islamic rule in the north of Mali, and the Islamists have been forced to backtrack on some of their proposed punishments.

Youth leader Ahmadou Ould Fneiny said that residents were shocked by Monday's amputations and are trying to decide what to do.

"People are disturbed by this. Yes, we have seen whippings in Gao before. And we have heard of amputations elsewhere. But an amputation here, we have never seen one until now," he said.