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Saudi Arabia executes 47 on terrorism charges

Al-Qaeda preacher Faris al-Zahrani and Shia leader Nimr al-Nimr, who led anti-government protests, among those executed.


Saudi Arabia has executed 47 "terrorists", according to the interior ministry, including Faris al-Zahrani, an al-Qaeda-preacher, and Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia leader.

In a press statement read out on state TV on Saturday, the Saudi ministry listed the names of all those it said were already convicted on charges of terrorism.

The death sentence given to Nimr al-Nimr, who led anti-government protests in the country's east, was confirmed by the Supreme Court in October.

He was convicted of sedition, disobedience and bearing arms. Nimr did not deny the political charges against him, but said he never carried weapons or called for violence.

Many of the other men executed had been linked to attacks in the kingdom between 2003 and 2006, blamed on al-Qaeda.

Among them was al-Qaeda preacher al-Zahani, once considered one of Saudi Arabia's "most-wanted terrorists".

He was detained in 2004 while allegedly in possession of weapons.

An Egyptian citizen and a Chadian citizen were also among the executed, the ministry said. The rest were all Saudis.

Reuters news agency reported four of those executed were Shia.

Notably absent from the list, was Nimr's nephew, Ali. He was arrested at the age of 17.

Nimr's execution prompted calls for demonstrations in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province and in other countries of the Middle East, but the brother of Nimr called for calm in Eastern Province.

"This action will spark anger of [Shia] youths" in Saudi Arabia, but "we reject violence and clashing with authorities", said Mohammed al-Nimr.

Diplomatic protest

Iran’s foreign ministry condemned the execution, calling it "the depth of imprudence and irresponsibility" on the part of the Saudi government.

"The Saudi government will pay a heavy price for adopting such policies," Hossein Jaber Ansari, the foreign ministry spokesman, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.

Later on Saturday, the Saudi government summoned the Iranian ambassador to protest against Tehran's reaction to the execution.

Hussain al-Shobokshi, a prominent Saudi columnist, said that Saudi authorities did not differentiate between "Shia source of terror and Sunni source of terror".

"[Saudi Arabia] made sure it saw no difference between any form of terror, as long as it was threatening its people and its economy," he said.

The interior ministry said that those convicted had participated in attacks against residential compounds and government buildings.

Bombings of compounds in Riyadh in May 2003 killed more than 30 people.

The following year there were 30 attacks, which led to a government crackdown on al-Qaeda and other homegrown fighters.

Nimr had called for the oil-rich Eastern Province, where about two million Shia live, to be separated from the rest of Saudi Arabia.

He also criticised the government for what he said was the marginalisation of the Shia minority in the country.

The announcement of the executions comes just days after Amnesty International said that Saudi Arabia executed at least 151 people in 2015, the most beheadings in 20 years.

Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi political commentator based in Riyadh, challenged "the integrity" of the rights organisation's report, saying it failed to mention Iran's execution record.

"Iran executes far more people a year than Saudi Arabia, but it does not get the negative publicity Saudi Arabia has. This is something that must be addressed," Dakhil said.

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