News / Middle East

    Saudi Arabia Executes 47, Including Prominent Shi'ite Cleric

    FILE - Protester holds up a picture of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr during a rally in coastal town of Qatif, Saudi Arabia.
    FILE - Protester holds up a picture of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr during a rally in coastal town of Qatif, Saudi Arabia.
    Edward Yeranian

    Saudi Arabia has carried out its largest mass execution in more than three decades, putting to death 47 people convicted of terrorism, including a prominent Shi'ite cleric.

    Most of those put to death were alleged Sunni militants, and some had ties to al-Qaida, according to media outlets. All but two were Saudi; one was Chadian and the other Egyptian.

    The cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was a key figure in Shi'ite protests that erupted during the 2011 Arab Spring. He had also criticized the government's treatment of Saudi Arabia's Shi'ite minority.

    Nimr's brother tweeted that the cleric's execution would not stop the push for equality. "You are wrong, uncertain and mistaken if you think that killing will stop demands for rights," he wrote. "We remain peacefully demanding reform and change in our country."

    Nimr's execution triggered condemnation from many in the Shi'ite world and stoked tensions with regional rival Iran.

    Saudi government spokesman Mansour Ben Turki, however, insisted that the executions were justified. He said 43 of the men executed had blood on their hands, and that they were put to death in the presence of witnesses, including a doctor.

    Saudi Justice Ministry spokesman Mansour Kafari blasted critics of the executions, arguing that their condemnations were unacceptable.

    "Any meddling in the Saudi justice system is unacceptable, because justice is a matter of sovereignty and it is the right of a state to enforce its laws," he was quoted as saying in a television news report. Outside parties "are free to express their views, but ... not to question the fairness of our justice system."

    The Lebanese-based terrorist group Hezbollah called Nimr's execution an "assassination," according to Hezbollah's Manar television.

    A top Shi'ite cleric in Lebanon warned there would be a backlash because of Nimr's execution. Sheikh Abdul-Amir Kabalan, deputy head of the influential Supreme Shi'ite Islamic Council, the main religious body for Lebanon's 1.2 million Shi'ites, said, "This is a crime at a human level and will have repercussions in the coming days."

    In Iran, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, one of the most senior clerics in Shi'ite-ruled Iran, said in an interview with the Mehr news agency that Nimr's execution reflected the "criminal" nature of the Saudi ruling family. "The crime of executing Sheikh Nimr is part of a criminal pattern by this treacherous family," he said. "The Islamic world is expected to cry out and denounce this infamous regime as much as it can."

    Hossein Jaber Ansari, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Saudi Arabia would pay a "high price" for executing Nimr.

    In undated video footage of Nimr, he is seen saying that he is over 50 years old and that he never once felt safe or secure in the Saudi kingdom, claiming that Sunni leaders have a sectarian mentality.

    Iran's Arabic-language al-Alam TV claimed that Saudi security forces have deployed in the Shi'ite region of Qatif, where supporters of Nimr have called for civil disobedience. The TV channel also showed video of an alleged protest in a Shi'ite district in the Gulf state of Bahrain

    Dubai-based analyst Theodore Karasik told VOA that the execution of Nimr is likely to have major implications, “especially in Bahrain, Kuwait and the [mostly Shi'ite] Saudi Eastern province.” He added that Iraqi Shi'ites were “likely to be upset” and that things could “get out of control in Yemen with the Houthis firing missiles,” or an Iranian reaction in the Gulf.

    Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, argued that Saudi leaders were sending a strong message to Iran, which they believe is fomenting trouble among Shi'ites in the Gulf, while Iran believes that the Saudis are making trouble with Iranian Sunnis.

    Diab said Nimr's execution was likely to inflame sectarian tensions all across the region and that attempts to calm the situation were “doomed to failure.”

    Saudi execution facts

    Saturday's executions were carried out in 12 cities across the country, with an Interior Ministry spokesman saying the beheadings were done inside prisons and not in public.

    Human rights groups say executions in Saudi Arabia are usually public beheadings. They say the decapitated bodies are occasionally left on display. Amnesty International says Saudi Arabia is "one of the most prolific executioners in the world," surpassed only by China and Iran.

    The executions were Saudi Arabia’s first in 2016. Rights groups said Saudi Arabia executed at least 157 people in 2015, compared with 90 in 2014.

    Amnesty International said the 2015 total was the largest number of executions since 1995, when 192 were recorded.

    Saturday's simultaneous execution of 47 people on terrorism charges was the largest number in a single day since the 1980 killings of 63 jihadist rebels who seized Mecca's Grand Mosque in 1979.

    Some information for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: John
    January 05, 2016 5:16 AM
    Fighting among them selves will keep them busy

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 03, 2016 12:14 PM
    Aren't those Iraniac Shiites ever mad? First new US sanctions coming down the pike and now this. Obama, keep that $150 billion as a new punishment for their missile tests. Let's get oil down to $20 a barrel by flooding the world market with even more of it. There's hardly storage enough left to put any more of it. Exporting US oil now is a very good idea.

    Executions, beheadings, fire bombings, suicide bombings, artillery bombardments, planes dropping bombs on people indiscriminately, cold hungry people trying to escape in hordes for their lives, just another ordinary day in the Islamic Middle East.

    Could the US alone have created all this chaos by itself as those who hate it assert? I think they give us far too much credit. China and Europe don't need the oil anymore anyway. Their economies are collapsing. All they need is just enough to keep from freezing to death this winter.

    by: Kafantaris
    January 02, 2016 3:28 PM
    “To lump this guy with terrorists is a stretch. To my knowledge, he never called for armed insurrection. This is indicative of the hard-line tilt the regime has taken.” -- Frederic Wehrey

    by: Solaris
    January 02, 2016 3:23 PM
    Iran-Iraq war lasted eight years and it ended in toppling the Sunni ruler Saddam Hussein. If Saudis want a war with Iran,Iraq and Shi'ites they will get it.

    by: AHMED from: INDIA
    January 02, 2016 12:11 PM
    This is sad story. Truth is very difficult job to digest in Saudi Arabia. He was demanding equal rights and fair distribution of National Assets among All Saudis.
    Monthly Luxury Budget of 5,000/=Princes and other members of Royal Family is more than 99% Saudi Nationals. Their life style is completely against Islam. Any body can see their lavish life in Euorpe and America.
    HE was against this system and always cry against injustice in Saudi Arab in the name of Poor Islam.

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 02, 2016 11:01 AM
    I don't see a problems with this? Is there a problem here? When you play on their field, you play by their rules. You're a foreign journalist and criticize the government in China, you get thrown out. A Chinese journalist goes to prison. You are a Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia and criticize the government, you get justice under Sharia law. You want to criticize anyone about anything, go to the US. There are so many voices shouting all at once no one will hear you let alone care what you have to say. Too busy playing shoot 'em up video games.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    January 02, 2016 10:49 AM
    The Saudi royals should have known better than to kill a great religious figure who has now becomes a martyr and a rallying point for religious extremists, fanatics and insane, to take up arms to avenge him and their religion in a war against the Saudi royals? .. The Saudi royals believe that the US can protect them, but they should remember, the US hasn't protected any country in the world from the terrorists yet? .. and now? .. [some mistakes are fatal, and the Saudi royals just might have made that fatal mistake?]

    by: Steve from Knox from: NY
    January 02, 2016 9:42 AM
    Saudi Arabia is atrocious. Unfortunate they sit on so much oil.

    by: Eric from: Germany
    January 02, 2016 8:06 AM
    Saudi Arabia = funding Al-Qaeda + supporting ISIS + violating basic human rights!
    In Response

    by: Hamed Mohammadnejad from: United States
    January 02, 2016 8:12 PM
    Do you have any clue that iran supports Alqaeda or other terrorist groups (except Hizbollah which I believe they just defend Lebanon from Israel's threat )
    In Response

    by: anonymous
    January 02, 2016 9:41 AM
    And Iran does what? exactly the same but in a more secretive manner. Not exactly a peace abiding nation by its track record.

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