Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shi’ite Muslim cleric alongside dozens of al Qaeda members on Saturday signaling intolerance of jihadism and minority Shi’ite Muslim violence and stirring a rise in sectarian tensions across the region.
Most of the 47 executed were convicted of al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia a decade ago, but four, including prominent cleric Nimr al-Nimr, were Shi’ite Muslims accused of shooting policemen during anti-government protests in recent years.
The executions took place in 12 cities in Saudi Arabia, four prisons using firing squads and the others beheading. The bodies were then hanged from gibbets in the most severe form of punishment available in the kingdom’s Sharia Islamic law.
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.
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 in the kingdom to stage attacks.
The simultaneous execution of 47 people on security grounds was the biggest mass execution for such offences in Saudi Arabia since the 1980 killing of 63 jihadist rebels who seized Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1979.
The 43 Sunni jihadists executed included several prominent al Qaeda figures, including those convicted of responsibility for attacks on Western compounds, government buildings and diplomatic missions that…