Saudi officials said the move sought to deter those committed to violence against the state. But analysts said the grouping of the cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken campaigner for Shiite rights, with hardened Qaeda operatives was a threat to domestic dissidents and could further exacerbate sectarian tensions across the Middle East…
Sheikh Nimr, who was arrested in 2012, had harshly criticized the Sunni monarchy of neighboring Bahrain for its violent suppression of protests by its own Shiite population after the start of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. The Saudi government accused him of fueling violent dissent among Saudi Arabia’s Shiites, which he denied.
The executions were carried out at a dozen sites across the kingdom; four involved firing squads, while the rest were beheadings, said Maj. Gen. Mansour Turki, a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry. While most executions in Saudi Arabia are held in public squares, Saturday’s were done inside prisons, General Turki said.
Iran, a Shiite country and Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, had warned that executing Sheikh Nimr “would cost Saudi Arabia dearly.”