Saudi Arabia has carried out its largest mass execution in more than three decades, putting to death 47 people convicted of terrorism, including a prominent Shi'ite cleric.
Media outlets say some of those executed Saturday had ties to al-Qaida. All but two of those put to death were Saudis. One was Chadian and the other Egyptian.
The cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was a key figure in Shi'ite protests that erupted during the 2011 Arab Spring. He had also criticized the government's treatment of Saudi Arabia's Shi'ite minority, many of whom complain of nationalization.
Al-Nimr's brother tweeted the cleric's execution will not stop the push for equality. He wrote, "You are wrong, uncertain and mistaken if you think that killing will stop demands for rights.We remain peacefully demanding reform and change in our country."
The Lebanese-based terrorist group Hezbollah called Nimr's execution an "assassination," according to Hezbollah's Manar television.
A top Shi'ite cleric in Lebanon warned there will be a backlash because of al-Nimr's execution. Sheikh Abdul-Amir Kabalan, deputy head of the influential Supreme Shi'ite Islamic Council, the main religious body for Lebanon's 1.2 million Shi'ites, said, "This is a crime at a human level and will have repercussions in the coming days."
In Iran, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, one of the most senior clerics in Shi'ite-ruled Iran, said in an interview with the Mehr news agency that Nimr's execution reflected the "criminal" nature of the Saudi ruling family. "The crime of executing Sheikh Nimr is part of a criminal pattern by this treacherous family," he said. "The Islamic world is expected to cry out and denounce this infamous regime as much as it can."
Hossein Jaber Ansari, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, said Saudi Arabia will pay a "high price" for executing al-Nimr.
Saturday's executions were carried out in 12 cities across the country, with an interior ministry spokesman saying the beheadings were done inside prisons and not in public.
Human rights groups say executions in Saudi Arabia are usually public beheadings. They say the decapitated bodies are occasionally left on display. Amnesty International says Saudi Arabia is "one of the most prolific executioners in the world," surpassed only by China and Iran.
At least 157 people were executed in Saudi Arabia last year, up from 90 in 2014.
Some information is from Reuters, AP and AFP.
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