Sending a tough message to both Sunni Muslim jihadists and Shi’ite anti-government protesters, Saudi Arabia has executed 47 people on January 2 for terrorism.
The deaths come in the backdrop of an escalating war of words between Saudi Arabia and the militant group Islamic State, which has called for attacks in the kingdom. This development may also raise tensions with Iran over the execution of prominent Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Tehran had warned last year that executing Nimr would “cost Saudi Arabia dearly”.
Most of the persons executed were convicted of leading or carrying out a series of attacks in Saudi Arabia by Al-Qaeda after 2003. This also included some members of the Shi’ite minority convicted of attacks on police during protests from 2011-13.
Issuing a statement on state television and other official media, Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry named the 47 dead men and listed crimes that included both involvement in terror attacks and embracing jihadist ideology. In 2015, the Gulf kingdom had suffered a series of bombings and shooting attacks by militant groups that were sympathetic to Islamic State group.
The attacks resulted in killing of dozens of people. This increased the pressure on Riyadh to show it was taking strong action and serious about combating terror. Saudi Arabia has faced allegations of funding terror networks worldwide and is seen by many countries as the lifeline of the terror groups.
“There is a huge popular pressure on the government to punish those people. It included all the leaders of al Qaeda, all the ones responsible for shedding blood. It sends a message,” said Mustafa Alani, a security analyst close to the Interior Ministry. The conservative country, known usually for executing people by public beheading, detained thousands of militant Islamists after a series of al Qaeda attacks from 2003-06 that killed hundreds, and has convicted hundreds of them.
Three other Shi’ites were executed alongside Mr Nimr. One of them included Ali al-Rubh, whom relatives said was a juvenile at the time of the crime for which he was convicted. Activists in Qatif, the Shi’ite district have warned of possible protests in response to the executions. Mr Nimr’s brother, Mohammed al-Nimr, however, said he hoped any response would be peaceful.
This is Saudi Arabia’s first set of executions in 2016. An estimated 157 people were put to death in 2015, which was a big increase from the 90 people killed in 2014. Mr Nimr was a central figure in Shiite protests that erupted in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring. By executing him it may spark new unrest among the OPEC powerhouse’s Shia minority and could increase the hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
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