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Iran, Saudi Arabia Trade Verbal Barbs After Execution Of Shiite Cleric

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned of repercussions after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric critical of the kingdom’s Sunni rulers.

An official source at the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry said yesterday Kuwait sharply condemned attacks by Iranian demonstrators on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the Saudi consulate in Mashhad.

A small group stormed the premises and several people were arrested, Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia told the state-run Islamic Students’ News Agency.

While the split between Sunnis and Shiites dates back to the early days of Islam and disagreements over the successor to Prophet Muhammad, those divisions have only grown as they intertwine with regional politics, with both Iran and Saudi Arabia vying to be the Mideast’s top power.

The cleric was one of 47 people put to death on Saturday after being convicted of terrorism offences.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Iranian diplomatic personnel had 48 hours to leave his country and all Saudi diplomatic personnel in Iran had been called home.

Matthiesen agrees that Nimr may have been executed “as a way of shoring up support amongst [Saudi] Sunnis, and particularly among the large segment of Saudis that feel sympathetic to ISIS or to a general anti-Shia and anti-Iranian policy”. He later said police had removed the protesters from the building and arrested some of them, adding that the situation had been “defused”.

The death sentence drove the Saudi government into a corner, Dean says.

“Al-Nimr stated that whether it is the Holy Mosque takeover, Iranian Revolution and [Eastern Province] Shia uprising of 1979; the realities of external pressure after September 11, 2001 and internal panic after the Saudi Arabia attacks of 2003 and 2004; or the advent of satellite television and the Internet”, the cable said, “the Saudi government has never introduced change but has instead always been forced to change”.

While Shiite leaders hit out at Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain defended their ally, saying the executions were necessary to confront extremism.

His family, in a statement posted on Twitter, called upon Shiites “to have self-control” and to continue “to demand their rights peacefully”.

Nimr was detained in 2012 for his role in organizing a protest demanding an end to discrimination against the Shi’ite minority in Saudi Arabia. “We have stressed this to the Saudi authorities and also expressed our disappointment at the mass executions”.

Witnesses say some 400 protesters have gathered at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran after it was stormed overnight.

“The execution of Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken critic of the Saudi royal family, has inflamed sectarian anger across the region”.

Khameni’s statement on January 3 said Nimr “neither invited people to take up arms nor hatched covert plots”.

With the exception of Al-Sayed and another Chadian national, all those executed were Saudi nationals. In each prison, the men were beheaded except for four that used firing squads, according to Reuters news agency.

“We have received with much sorrow and regret the news of the martyrdom of a number of our brother believers in the region whose pure blood was shed in an unjust aggression”, said Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The proceedings of Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court, which conducted his trial in 13 sessions over a year and a half, raised serious fair trial concerns, including vague charges that do not resemble recognizable crimes and trial sessions held without informing al-Nimr’s legal advocate.

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