Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shi’ite Muslim cleric and dozens of al Qaeda members on Saturday, signaling it would not tolerate attacks by either sunni jihadists or minority shi’ites seeking equality, but stirring sectarian anger across the region.
Scores of Shi’ite Muslims marched through the Qatif district of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province in protest at the execution of cleric Nimr al-Nimra, an eyewitness said. They chanted “down with the Al Saud”, the name of the ruling Saudi royal family.
But 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.
Riyadh’s main regional rival Iran and its Shi’ite allies immediately reacted with vigorous condemnation of the execution of Nimr, and Saudi police raised security in a district where the sect is a majority in case of protests, residents said.
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.
Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al Saud family has grown increasingly nervous in recent years as turmoil across the Middle East, especially Syria…