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Middle East france 24

Protesters storm Saudi embassy in Tehran after execution of top Shiite cleric

© Mohammadreza Nadimi, AFP/ ISNA | Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-01-03

Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran early on Sunday as Shiite Muslim Iran reacted with fury to Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Demonstrators who had massed at the embassy gates to protest against cleric Nimr al-Nimr's execution broke into the embassy and started fires before being cleared away by the police.

Pictures posted on Twitter showed parts of the interior on fire and smashed furniture inside one office.

Shortly afterwards, Iran's foreign ministry issued a statement calling for calm and urging protesters to respect the diplomatic premises.

Tehran's police chief, Hossein Sajedinia, told Iran's ISNA news agency that an unspecified number of "unruly elements" had been arrested for attacking the embassy with petrol bombs and rocks.

Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guards had promised "harsh revenge" against the Saudi Sunni royal dynasty for Saturday's execution of Nimr, considered a terrorist by Riyadh but hailed in Iran as a champion of the rights of Saudi Arabia's marginalised Shiite minority.

Nimr, the most vocal critic of the dynasty among the Shiite minority, had come to be seen as a leader of the sect's younger activists, who had tired of the failure of older, more measured leaders to achieve equality with Sunnis.

Although most of the 47 men killed in the kingdom's biggest mass execution for decades were Sunnis convicted of al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia a decade ago, it was Nimr and three other Shiites, all accused of involvement in shooting police, who attracted most attention in the region and beyond.

The move appeared to end any hopes that the appearance of a common enemy in the form of the Islamic State group would produce some rapprochement between the region's leading Sunni and Shiite Muslim powers, who back opposing sides in wars currently raging in Syria and Yemen.

The website of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, carried a picture of a Saudi executioner next to notorious Islamic State group executioner 'Jihadi John', with the caption "Any differences?". The Revolutionary Guards said "harsh revenge" would topple "this pro-terrorist, anti-Islamic regime".

Saudi Arabia summoned the Iranian ambassador, only to see its embassy stormed soon afterwards.

Iraq also furious

In Iraq, whose Shiite-led government is close to Iran, prominent religious and political figures demanded that ties with Riyadh be severed, calling into question Saudi attempts to forge a regional alliance against the Islamic State group, which controls
swaths of Iraq and Syria.

Despite the regional focus on Nimr, the executions seemed mostly aimed at discouraging jihadism in Saudi Arabia, where dozens have died in the past year in attacks by Sunni militants.

Who was Nimr al-Nimr, the Shiite cleric executed by Saudi authorities?

The ruling Al Saud family has grown increasingly worried in recent years as Middle East turmoil, especially in Syria and Iraq, has boosted Sunni jihadists seeking to bring it down and given room to Iran to spread its influence. A nuclear deal with Iran backed by Saudi Arabia's biggest ally and protector, the United States, has done little to calm nerves in Riyadh.

But Saudi Arabia's Western allies, many of whom supply it with arms, are growing concerned about its new assertiveness in the region and at home.

The US State Department said Nimr's execution "risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced". The sentiment was echoed almost verbatim by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and an official at
the German Foreign Ministry.

The simultaneous execution of 47 people - 45 Saudis, one Egyptian and a man from Chad - was the biggest mass execution for security offences in Saudi Arabia since the 1980 killing of 63 jihadist rebels who seized Mecca's Grand Mosque in 1979.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2016-01-02

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