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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C

Saudi Arabia has executed 47 men, including a prominent cleric, for terror offences

All bar two of those executed were Saudi citizens. The executions have sparked international condemnation in the region.

India Kashmir Saudi Execution Protest AP / Press Association Images Shiite Muslims mourn as they hold portraits of Nimr al-Nimr during a protest in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, today AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

SAUDI ARABIA HAS today executed a prominent Shiite cleric behind anti-government protests along with 46 other men, drawing angry condemnation from Iran and Iraq.

The execution of Nimr al-Nimr and the others, including Shiite activists and Sunnis accused of involvement in deadly Al Qaeda attacks, was announced by the Saudi interior ministry.

It prompted calls for demonstrations, with the brother of the 56-year-old cleric warning it could stir more trouble in oil-rich Eastern Province where Shiites complain of marginalisation.

“This action will spark anger of (Shiite) youths in Saudi Arabia,” said Mohammed al-Nimr.

The interior ministry said the 47 men had been convicted of adopting the radical “takfiri” ideology, joining “terrorist organisations” and implementing various “criminal plots”.

A list published by the official Saudi Press Agency included Sunni Muslims convicted of involvement in Al Qaeda attacks that killed Saudi and foreigners in the kingdom in 2003 and 2004.

One of those executed was Fares al-Shuwail, described by Saudi media as Al Qaeda’s top religious leader in the kingdom. He was arrested in 2004.

Notably absent from the list, however, was Nimr’s nephew, Ali al-Nimr, whose arrest at the age of 17 and alleged torture during detention sparked condemnation from rights watchdogs and the United States.

India Kashmir Saudi Execution Protest AP / Press Association Images Kashmiri Shiite Muslims hold the Hezbollah flag as they march through a street shouting slogans against the execution of Nimr al-Nimr AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

All those executed were Saudis, except for an Egyptian and a Chadian.

Some were beheaded with a sword while others were executed by firing squad, said interior ministry spokesman Mansur al-Turki.

Executions have soared in the country since King Salman acceded the throne in January 2015, with 158 people, including convicted drug-traffickers, put to death last year, nearly twice as many as in 2014.

‘Oppression and execution’

Today’s executions drew condemnation from Shiite-majority Iran and Iraq as well as the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, and calls for anti-Saudi protests.

“The Saudi government supports terrorist movements and extremists, but confronts domestic critics with oppression and execution,” said Hossein Jaber Ansari, spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry.

“The Saudi government will pay a high price for following these policies,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

He said Nimr’s execution “merely shows the extent of irresponsibility and impudence”.

Tehran ally Hezbollah accused Saudi Arabia’s rulers of being “global criminals”, and denounced Nimr’s execution as a “heinous crime”.

India Kashmir Saudi Execution Protest AP / Press Association Images A Kashmiri Shiite woman along with her daughter watch from a window of their house as Shiite protesters shout slogans against the execution of Nimr al-Nimr AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

In Riyadh, Turki described Iran’s reaction as “irresponsible”.

“We are completely confident with what we’re doing and we believe in it and do not care how others view our procedures, whether on justice or implementation of sentences,” he told a news conference.

Justice ministry spokesman Mansur al-Qafari said “interference in the kingdom’s judiciary is unacceptable”.

Rights groups have repeatedly raised concern about the fairness of trials in Saudi Arabia, where murder, drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape and apostasy are all punishable by death.

Iran’s Basij student militia connected to the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards called for a demonstration on Sunday afternoon outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

In Saudi ally Bahrain, dozens of youths from the majority Shiite population staged protests outside Manama to denounce the executions which the government described as a “necessary step” to “confront violence and extremism”.

In Iraq, prominent Shiite lawmaker Khalaf Abdelsamad called for the closure of Riyadh’s embassy and urged the government to expel the Saudi ambassador.

“The execution of Sheikh al-Nimr will have serious consequences and bring about the end of the Al-Saud (royal family’s) rule,” his office said.

Nimr’s brother said he was “surprised” when he heard of the execution, adding he hoped “wisdom and a political solution” would prevail.

“There will be negative reactions from within the kingdom and abroad. But we hope for peaceful reactions,” he added.

‘Instigator of sedition’

Nimr al-Nimr was arrested in 2012, three years after calling for Eastern Province’s Shiite-populated Qatif and Al-Ihsaa governorates to be separated from Saudi Arabia and united with Bahrain.

The interior ministry had described him at the time of his arrest as an “instigator of sedition”.

A video published on YouTube in 2012 showed Nimr making a speech celebrating the 2012 death of then-interior minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz.

“Let the worms eat him,” Nimr had said while also criticising the ruling Sunni families in both Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Bahrain where the Shiite community has also complained of marginalisation.

The anti-government protests that erupted in eastern Saudi Arabia five years ago had coincided with a Shiite-led protest movement in Bahrain that was later crushed with help from Saudi troops.

Also today, a Saudi-led coalition battling Iran-backed rebels in Yemen announced the end of a ceasefire that had been violated on a daily basis since it was declared last month.

Yemen is also home to Al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula, which last month warned Saudi authorities against executing jihadists on death row.

© – AFP, 2016

Read: Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims has just been used in a militant Islamist recruitment video

Read: A woman has won a seat in Saudi Arabia’s historic election

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