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37 prisoners beheaded

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday beheaded 37 Saudi citizens, most of them minority Shiites, in a mass execution across the country for alleged terrorism-related crimes. It publicly pinned one of the convicted Sunni extremists' bodies and its severed head to a pole as a warning to others.

The executions were likely to stoke further regional and sectarian tensions between rivals Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and Shiite-led Iran.

Dissident Ali Al-Ahmed, who runs the Gulf Institute in Washington, identified 34 of those executed as Shiites based on the names announced by the Interior Ministry.

"This is the largest mass execution of Shiites in the kingdom's history," he said.

Amnesty International also confirmed the majority of those executed were Shiite men. The rights group said they were convicted "after sham trials" that relied on confessions extracted through torture.

It marked the largest number of executions in a single day in Saudi Arabia since Jan. 2, 2016, when the kingdom executed 47 people for terrorism-related crimes in what was the largest mass execution carried out by Saudi Arabia since 1980.

Among those executed three years ago were four Shiites, including prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, whose death sparked protests from Pakistan to Iran and the ransacking of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Saudi-Iran ties have not recovered and the embassy remains shuttered.

King Salman ratified by royal decree Tuesday's mass execution and that of 2016. The king, who has empowered his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has asserted a bolder and more decisive leadership style than previous monarchs since ascending to the throne in 2015.

The kingdom and its allies have also been emboldened by U.S. President Donald Trump's unwavering dedication to pressuring Iran's leadership, which includes his decision to pull out of a nuclear agreement with Iran and re-impose punishing sanctions to cripple its economy.

Al-Ahmed described Tuesday's executions as a politically motivated message to Iran.

"This is political," he said. "They didn't have to execute these people, but it's important for them to ride the American anti-Iranian wave."

Al-Ahmed said among those executed was Shiite religious leader Sheikh Mohammed al-Attiyah. Among his charges was that he tried to form a sectarian group in the western city of Jiddah, al-Ahmed said. Al-Ahmed said the sheikh publicly spoke of the need to work closely with Saudi Arabia's Sunni majority and would lead small prayer groups among Shiites.

Saudi Arabia's supreme council of Muslim scholars said the executions were carried out in accordance with Islamic law. The Interior Ministry used language that indicated they were all beheadings.

The ministry's statement said those executed had adopted extremist ideologies and formed terrorist cells with the aim of spreading chaos and provoking sectarian strife. It said the individuals had been found guilty according to the law and ordered executed by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, which specializes in terrorism trials, and the country's high court.

The individuals were found guilty of attacking security installations with explosives, killing a number of security officers and co-operating with enemy organizations against the interests of the country, the Interior Ministry said.

The statement was carried across state-run media, including the Saudi news channel al-Ekhbariya. The statement read on the state-run news channel opened with a verse from the Qur’an that condemns attacks that aim to create strife and disharmony and warns of great punishment for those who carry out such attacks.

The Interior Ministry said the body of one of the men — Khaled bin Abdel Karim al-Tuwaijri — was publicly pinned to a pole for several hours in a process that is not frequently used by the kingdom and has sparked controversy for its grisly display. The statement did not say in which city of Saudi Arabia the public display took place.



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