Middle East

Iranian protesters gather outside the Saudi Embassy in Tehran during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016
Iranian envoy given 24 hours to leave Riyadh; Protesters firebomb Saudi embassy in Tehran

Saudi Arabia will face "divine revenge" over its execution of a top Shiite cleric, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Sunday after protesters attacked the kingdom's embassy in Tehran.

"The unjustly spilt blood of this martyr will have quick consequences," Khamenei told clerics in the capital, referring to Nimr al-Nimr who was executed along with 46 other men on Saturday.

"This scholar neither encouraged people into armed action nor secretly conspired for plots but the only thing he did was utter public criticism rising from his religious zeal."

Khamenei called the killing of Nimr "a political mistake by the Saudi government".

"God will not forgive... it will haunt the politicians of this regime," he added.

Mohammed Huwais (AFP/File)

-'Zionist conspiracy'-

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari said on Sunday that "the Saudi government supports terrorist movements and extremists, but confronts domestic critics with oppression and execution."

It will "pay a high price for following these policies", he warned.

Ahmad Khatami, a prominent state-affiliated Iranian cleric, was quoted by Iran's Mehr news agency as saying that the Saudi ruling family would be "wiped from the pages of history" following Nimr's execution.

The IRGC released a strongly worded statement following Nimr's execution, calling it a "Zionist conspiracy" and describing Saudi Arabia as a "hotbed for terrorists" with a regime that "belongs in the middle ages."

Saudi foreign ministry spokesman Mansur al-Turki called Iran's reaction "irresponsible", giving Iran's envoy to the kingdom 24 hours to leave the country after having been summoned in protest.

-Outrage-

Angry crowds in Iran set fire to the Saudi embassy and consulate late Saturday night, with officials saying on Sunday that 40 people had since been arrested over the attack.

Nimr al-Nimr, who spent more than a decade studying theology in Iran and was a driving force behind anti-government protests in Saudi Arabia in 2011, was put to death along with 46 other men, the Saudi interior ministry said.

Mohammed Huwais (AFP/File)

Along with the 56-year-old were Shiite activists and Sunnis accused of involvement in Al-Qaida killings.

The executions sparked protests in at least one city in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern Province, where Shiites complain of marginalization, as well as in Iran, Iraq and Bahrain.

Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah, an ally of Tehran, said Saudi Arabia's rulers were "global criminals" and denounced Nimr's execution as a "heinous crime".

In Iraq, hundreds of people demonstrated in the holy Shiite city of Karbala and prominent Shiite lawmaker Khalaf Abdelsamad called for the closure of Riyadh's newly-reopened embassy in Baghdad and the expulsion of its ambassador.

And in Yemen, where the kingdom is leading a coalition against Shiite rebels, the religious scholars' association controlled by them condemned the execution.

The strongest condemnation came from Riyadh's longtime rival Tehran, where protesters hurled petrol bombs and stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran before being cleared out by police, the ISNA news agency reported, adding that flames could be seen rising from the building.

"The fire has destroyed the interior of the embassy," an eyewitness told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The police are everywhere and have dispersed the demonstrators, some of whom have been arrested."

Mohammed Al-Shaikh (AFP)

'Exacerbating sectarian tensions'

Websites carried pictures of demonstrators apparently clutching the Saudi flag, which had been pulled down and protesters had been able to climb up onto the roof of the embassy before they were made to leave, according to ISNA.

In Mashhad, Iran's second biggest city, demonstrators meanwhile set fire to the Saudi consulate, according to news websites, which published photos of the alleged assault.

The incidents came after the United States and European Union expressed alarm over the executions, with Washington warning that Riyadh "risked "exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced".

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Nimr's case raised serious concerns over freedom of expression and the respect of basic civil and political rights in Saudi Arabia.

"This case has also the potential of inflaming further the sectarian tensions that already bring so much damage to the entire region, with dangerous consequences," she said. She urged Saudi authorities to promote reconciliation between different communities in the country.

Saudi Arabia's interior ministry said the executed men had been convicted of adopting the radical "takfiri" ideology, joining "terrorist organisations" and implementing various "criminal plots".

Twitter

An official list published included Sunnis convicted of involvement in Al-Qaida attacks that killed dozens of people -- Saudis and foreigners -- in 2003 and 2004.

Among them was Fares al-Shuwail, described by Saudi media as Al-Qaida's top religious leader in the kingdom.

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

Some were beheaded, while others were shot by firing squad, said the ministry spokesman.

'Instigator of sedition'

Nimr's brother, Mohammed, said he had hoped that "wisdom and a political solution" would prevail to spare the cleric's life.

He warned that his execution could trigger "negative reactions" inside and outside Saudi Arabia.

The governments of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, however, voiced support for Saudi Arabia, saying the executions were necessary to confront extremism.

reprieve.org/AFP

Executions have soared in the country since King Salman ascended the throne a year ago, with 153 people put to death in 2015, nearly twice as many as in 2014.

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.

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

Staff with agencies

1 Comment

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  • Daniel Hayon
    January 03rd 2016 - 01:59am

    And the USA has 'sponsored' Iran nuclear development ....


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