Saudi Arabia Executes 37 Men, Many Connected to Shiite Unrest

Vivian Nereim and Abbas Al Lawati
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Saudi Arabia Executes 37 Men, Many Connected to Shiite Unrest

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia executed 37 citizens found guilty of various terrorism-related charges, the government said on Tuesday, including many Shiite Muslims arrested in connection with violence and unrest in the kingdom’s Eastern Province.

Those men were accused of adopting extremist ideology, forming terrorist cells, provoking sectarian strife and attacking security targets, according to an Interior Ministry statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency. They were also accused of cooperating with “hostile parties” against the interests of the country.

It was the first mass execution in Saudi Arabia since January 2016, when the death sentence was carried out against 47 people, including firebrand Shiite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr and Sunni militants affiliated with al-Qaeda. Al-Nimr’s death sparked protests in Iran and an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, prompting the kingdom to suspend ties with the Islamic Republic.

While the government didn’t spell out the method of execution, capital punishment in Saudi Arabia is usually carried out as beheading by sword.

Saudi Arabia has clamped down on a variety of perceived threats over the past few years, ranging all the way from local Islamic State sympathizers to women’s rights activists authorities said had undermined state security.

Several of those executed were on a list of 23 most-wanted men sought in connection to protests, clashes and violence that erupted in the oil-rich Eastern Province during the Arab Spring in 2011. At least one had been arrested for an attack on German diplomats in 2014, while others had been held for attacking security forces.

Among the 37 was Abdulkareem Al-Hawaj, a young Shiite man who was under 18 when his alleged crimes were committed, according to a statement from United Nations human rights experts last year. Many Shiites, especially those in the oil-rich Eastern Province, accuse the country’s Sunni rulers of discrimination.

Amnesty International said Al-Hawaj was convicted of offenses including throwing Molotov cocktails and participating in riots “that resulted in the shooting of an armored vehicle,” as well as using social media to share images of demonstrations.

(Updates with details about executed men from the first paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Vivian Nereim in Riyadh at;Abbas Al Lawati in Dubai at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Donna Abu-Nasr at, Alaa Shahine, Mark Williams

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