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Iran's leader warns Saudis of 'divine vengeance' over execution of Shia cleric

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei renews attack on Saudi Arabia over killing of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, saying the ‘political error’ will be punished

 Smoke rises as Iranian protesters angry over the killing of Nimr al-Nimr set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Photograph: Mohammadreza Nadimi/AP

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has renewed his attack on Saudi Arabia over its execution of a leading Shia cleric, saying that politicians in the Sunni kingdom would face divine retribution for his death.

“The unjustly spilled blood of this oppressed martyr will no doubt soon show its effect and divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians,” state TV reported Khamenei as saying on Sunday. It said he described the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr as a “political error”.

Saudi Arabia executed Nimr and three other Shia alongside dozens of alleged al-Qaida members on Saturday, signalling it would not tolerate attacks by either Sunni jihadists or members of the Shia minority seeking equality.

Khamenei added: “This oppressed cleric did not encourage people to join an armed movement, nor did he engage in secret plotting, and he only voiced public criticism ... based on religious fervour.”

In an apparent swipe at Saudi Arabia’s western allies, Khamenei criticised “the silence of the supposed backers of freedom, democracy and human rights” over the execution.

“Why are those who claim to support human rights quiet? Why do those who claim to back freedom and democracy support this (Saudi) government?” Khamenei was quoted as saying.

The executions sparked protests around the region with a mob storming the Saudi embassy in Tehran and setting fire to part of the building before they were dispersed by the police. In Bahrain, police fired teargas to control a crowd of protesters and there were also demonstrations in India and in London.

More protests are expected in Iran and Lebanon on Sunday.

But while human rights groups have condemned the executions and governments around the region, western government responses have so far been muted.

The US state department expressed concern on Saturday that Nimr’s execution could exacerbate sectarian tensions in the Middle East. In Hawaii, where president Barack Obama is on vacation with his family, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the administration has urged the Saudis to show restraint regarding respect for human rights.

The Saudi foreign ministry said on Sunday that Iran’s reaction “revealed its true face represented in support for terrorism”. A ministry statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency accused Tehran of “blind sectarianism” and said that “by its defence of terrorist acts” Iran is a “partner in their crimes in the entire region”.

Saudi foreign ministry spokesman Mansur al-Turki called Iran’s reaction “irresponsible”, and Riyadh summoned Tehran’s envoy in protest.


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