Saudi executions seen as sending message to all dissenters

The New York Times reports: Officials in Saudi Arabia have said that the executions of 47 prisoners on Saturday were a long overdue reckoning for militants, including accused Qaeda members who were said to be recruiters, propagandists or bomb makers who helped carry out deadly attacks in the kingdom more than a decade ago.

But despite the weight of some of the accusations, the Saudi authorities had been in no hurry to put the men to death, allowing some to languish in prison for a decade or more. Only four of the men were convicted of crimes in the most severe category, punishable by death under Islamic law, reinforcing the fact that the death penalty is far less common in terrorism cases in Saudi Arabia than in drug or murder cases, according to human rights advocates.

With its decision to execute the accused militants, along with Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken antigovernment cleric and advocate for Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority who was arrested in 2012, the Saudi government seemed willing to endure the potentially high political costs of the killings in order to deliver a warning to would-be militants, political dissidents and others that any challenge to the royal family’s rule would not be tolerated, analysts say.

It remained to be seen whether the executions would provoke a backlash among Sunni ultraconservatives. But the killings of Sheikh Nimr and three other Shiite dissidents undermined the government’s assertions that it had executed only terrorists and prompted an explosion of tensions between Saudi Arabia and the Shiite government of Iran that has shaken the region. [Continue reading…]

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