Saudi Arabia has executed a prominent Shi’ite Muslim cleric and dozens of al Qaeda members on Saturday, January 2, signalling it would not tolerate attacks by either Sunni jihadists or minority Shi’ites seeking equality, but stirring sectarian anger across the region, Reuters reported.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was among 47 people put to death after being convicted of terrorism offences, it said in a statement.
BBC reports that Sheikh Nimr was a vocal supporter of the mass anti-government protests that erupted in Eastern Province in 2011, where a Shia majority have long complained of marginalisation.
Most of the 47 executed in the kingdom’s biggest mass execution for decades were Sunnis convicted of al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia a decade ago. Four, including Nimr, were Shi’ites accused of shooting policemen.
The executions took place in 12 cities in Saudi Arabia, four prisons using firing squads and the others beheading. In December, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula threatened to retaliate against Saudi Arabia for any execution of its members.
Also, Shia-led Iran had announced that Saudi Arabia would pay a “high price” for the execution.
However, the executions seemed mostly aimed at discouraging Saudis from jihadism after bombings and shootings by Sunni militants in Saudi Arabia over the past year killed dozens and Islamic State called on followers there to stage attacks.