Shiite leaders have lashed out over Saudi Arabia’s execution of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr on terror charges.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was a vocal critic of the Saudi authorities, was executed on Saturday along with 46 other people.
Shia-lead Iran said Saudi Arabia would pay a “high price” for the execution.
A senior Iranian Ayatollah called the execution a “crime,” and Tehran’s Foreign Ministry accused Riyadh of supporting terrorists.
The international rights group Reprieve called the executions “appalling”, saying at least four of those killed, including Sheikh Nimr, were put to death for offences related to political protest.
According to a lawmaker from Iraq’s ruling Shiite coalition, Saudi Arabia’s execution of al-Nimr was intended to fuel Sunni-Shiite strife and “set the region on fire.”
“This measure taken by the ruling family [of Saudi Arabia] aims at reigniting the region, provoking sectarian fighting between Sunnis and Shiites,” Mohammed al-Sayhud told al-Sumaria TV.
Prominent Iraqis have called on the government in Baghdad on Saturday to cut ties with Riyadh over Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s execution, al-Sumaria TV reported.
“It’s a big crime that has opened the gates of hell,” Qasim al-Araji, the head of the Badr Organization in Iraq said, calling on Baghdad to cut diplomatic ties “immediately,” according to the channel’s website.
Another Iran-backed militia group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, has accused Saudi Arabia of seeking to provoke Sunni-Shiite strife, according to the TV’s website. “What the use of having a Saudi embassy in Iraq?” it reportedly said.
Al-Nimr’s death has already added fuel to the fire in the boiling sectarian tensions in the Middle East.
— Hassan Ridha (@sayed_ridha) January 2, 2016
Police in Bahrain fired tear gas at several dozen people protesting al-Nimr’s execution and carrying pictures of the cleric in a standoff in the Shi’ite Muslim village of Abu-Saiba, west of the capital Manama, an eyewitness told Reuters.
Scores of Shiite Muslims have come out to protest in Qatif, one of the oldest settlements in eastern Saudi Arabia, against the government’s execution of al-Nimr on Saturday, Reuters reported.
The protesters reportedly chanted, “down with the Al Saud,” referring to the name of the ruling Saudi royal family. They marched from al-Nimr’s home village of al-Awamiya to the region’s main town of Qatif, the only district in Saudi Arabia where Shiites are a majority.
One of the most senior clerics in Shiite-majority Iran, Ahmad Khatami, said that al-Nimr’s execution reflected the “criminal” character of the Saudi ruling family.
“I have no doubt that this pure blood will stain the collar of the House of Saud and wipe them from the pages of history,” Khatami, a member of the Assembly of Experts, was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency.
He added: “The crime of executing Sheikh Nimr is part of a criminal pattern by this treacherous family … the Islamic world is expected to cry out and denounce this infamous regime as much as it can.”
Kataib Hezbollah’s leader, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, hailed the execution of Sheikh al-Nimr as “a crime that is added to the criminal record of Al Saud,” he said, according to al-Ahd TV.
Yemen’s Houthi movement has also mourned the prominent Shiite cleric, executed on Saturday.
“The Al Saudi family executed today the holy warrior, the grand cleric Nimr Baqr al-Nimr after a mock trial … a flagrant violation of human rights,” an obituary on the Houthis’ official Al Maseera website stated.
According to Lebanon’s Supreme Islamic Shiite Council, al-Nimr’s capital punishment was a serious “mistake.”
“The execution of Sheikh Nimr was an execution of reason, moderation and dialogue,” the council’s vice president, Sheikh Abdel Amir Qabalan said in a statement.