Saudi Arabia executes top cleric Nimr al-Nimr along with Qaeda members
RIYADH - Saudi Arabia on Saturday executed 47 people convicted of \"terrorism\", including a prominent Shiite cleric behind anti-government protests, the interior ministry said.
The cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in the Sunni-ruled kingdom\'s east, where the Shiite minority complains of marginalisation.
But the list does not include Nimr\'s nephew, Ali al-Nimr, who was 17 when he was arrested following the protests.
The ministry statement, published on the official SPA news agency, said the 47 had been convicted of adopting the radical \"takfiri\" ideology, joining \"terrorist organisations\" and implementing various \"criminal plots\".
The list also includes Sunnis who have been convicted of involvement in deadly 2003 and 2004 Al-Qaeda attacks in that killed Saudis and foreigners in the kingdom.
Those executed include an Egyptian and a Chadian. The rest are all Saudis.
The killing of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr may spark new unrest among Saudi Arabia\'s Shiite minority, largely concentrated in the kingdom\'s east, and in Bahrain, which has seen low-level violence since 2011 protests by its Shiite majority demanding greater rights from its Sunni monarchy.
Al-Nimr has been a vocal critic of the government of the tiny island nation of Bahrain. Saudi Arabia sent troops to help Bahrain suppress the uprising, fearing it would spread.
Before his arrest in 2012, al-Nimr had said the people do not want rulers who kill and carry out injustices against protesters. He was asked at his trial if he disapproves of the Al Saud ruling family.
\"If injustice stops against Shiites in the east, then (at that point) I can have a different opinion,\" the cleric responded, according to his brother Mohammed, who attended court sessions.
Al-Nimr did not deny the political charges against him, but said he never carried weapons or called for violence.
Saudi Arabia carried out at least 157 executions in 2015, with beheadings reaching their highest level in the kingdom in two decades, according to several advocacy groups that monitor the death penalty worldwide.