Saudi Arabia Executes 47, Including Top Shiite Cleric
Saudi Arabia announced that it has executed 47 people convicted of terrorism charges, including including al-Qaeda detainees and a prominent Shiite cleric who rallied protests against the government.
The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr has sparked unrest among Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority and is expected to heighten sectarian tensions across the region.
The execution of al-Qaeda militants also raised concerns that there would be revenge attacks. The extremist group's branch in Yemen threateaned violence againist Saudi security forces last month if the death sentences were carried out.
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Saudi Arabia's top cleric Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh said the executions were performed in line with Islamic law and the need to safeguard the kingdom's security, the Associated Press reports.
He described the executions as a "mercy to the prisoners" because it would save them from committing more evil acts and prevent chaos.
The Lebanese Shiite militant group, Hezbollah, issued a statement calling al-Nimr's execution an "assassination" and an "ugly crime."
There are vastly different views on the application of the death penality under Shariah law and Saudi judges adhere to its strictest interpretation, Wahhabism.
Top Shiite figures and clerics across the region are condemning al-Nimr's execution, with Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran describing it as "irresponsible."
A top Shiite Lebanese described al-Nimr's death as "a grave mistake that could have been avoided with a royal amnesty that would have helped reduce sectarian tensions in the region."
Al-Nimr, had been a vocal critic of Bahrain's monarchy, which forcibly suppressed protests in 2011 with the help of Saudi troops.
The Interior Ministry announced the names of all 47 people executed in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. Of those executed, 45 were Saudi citizens, one was from Chad and another was from Egypt.
The four Shiites executed were connected to a series of violent protests that erupted in the east in 2011 and 2012, in which several protesters and police officers were killed.
The al-Qaeda militants executed had been convicted of taking part in a wave of deadly attacks that killed foreigners and Saudis.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Jaberi Ansari warned on the state-owned Press TV that the Saudi monarchy would pay a heavy price for its policies. A senior Iranian cleric, Hossein Nouri Hamedani, said that the region should expect "both Shiite and Sunni Muslims to react."
Sheikh Abdul-Amir Kabalan, deputy head of the influential Supreme Shiite Islamic Council, the main religious body for Lebanon's 1.2 million Shiites, said the executions "will have repercussions in the coming days."