The Latest: Insider says Saudis decided 'enough was enough'

AP News
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Posted: Jan 03, 2016 5:50 PM
The Latest: Insider says Saudis decided 'enough was enough'

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The latest developments after Saudi Arabia executes a prominent opposition Shiite cleric convicted of terrorism charges, sparking anger in Iran and among Shiites across the region (All times local).

1:45 a.m.

A person familiar with the Saudi government's thinking in Washington says the kingdom severed relations with Iran because "enough was enough," adding that Riyadh was less concerned with how its decision affects diplomatic efforts led by the United States, including the Syrian peace talks or the Iran nuclear deal.

The person, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomacy, said Sunday that the Saudi government is tired of what it sees as Tehran "thumbing its nose at the West," including the recent launch of ballistic missiles, while no one does anything about it.

"Every time Iran does something, the United States backs off," the person said.

Saudi Arabia announced it was cutting diplomatic relations with Iran after protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. The protests erupted after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric.

— By Wendy Benjaminson, Associated Press

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1:30 a.m.

U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby says Washington is aware of Saudi Arabia's decision to close Iranian diplomatic missions in the kingdom, but believes "that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential in working through differences."

Kirby, in a statement issued Sunday, said the U.S. "will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions."

The Saudi decision to sever diplomatic relations with Iran comes amid rising tensions over the execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric.

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11:30 p.m.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says his country is severing diplomatic ties with Iran amid spiking tensions over the execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric.

Al-Jubeir said late Sunday evening that Iranian diplomatic personnel had 48 hours to leave the country and all Saudi diplomatic personnel in Iran were being recalled home.

Demonstrators in Tehran broke into the Saudi Embassy early Sunday morning to protest the execution of Shiekh Nimr al-Nimr, a leader of the country's Shiite minority.

Iranian officials harshly condemned the execution, with Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying that Saudi Arabia would face "divine retribution."

The ultraconservative Sunni kingdom and Shiite powerhouse Iran have waged a bitter struggle for regional power for years. The two countries each back opposing sides in civil wars in Yemen and in Syria.

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6:20 p.m.

The U.S. State Department is calling on the Iranian government to protect the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and on both Saudi Arabia and Iran to avoid escalating regional Sunni-Shiite tensions.

Demonstrators in Tehran broke into the Saudi Embassy early Sunday morning to protest the execution of prominent Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters Sunday that the U.S. supports the right to peaceful protest, but "we condemn in the strongest terms any attacks on diplomatic properties."

Trudeau called on both Iran and Saudi Arabia refrain from "any actions that could further heighten tensions."

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5:45 p.m.

The leader of Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah has strongly condemned Saudi Arabia for executing prominent opposition Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

In a televised speech on Sunday, Hassan Nasrallah described al-Nimr as a brave martyr and holy warrior, who didn't carry weapons or espouse armed conflict and was killed only for his criticism of the Al Saud ruling family. Celebratory gunfire rang out in central Beirut at the speech's beginning and end.

Nasrallah said the Saudis could not take any criticism, and thus they executed al-Nimr in what amounts to a "serious crime" that "cannot be taken lightly."

Earlier, protesters gathered in Beirut at the Saudi Embassy and United Nations buildings to denounce the execution.

Audiences at the rallies and watching Nasrallah's speech chanted: "Death to the house of Saud."

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5:20 p.m.

Police in Bahrain have fired birdshot and used water cannons to push back demonstrators protesting Saudi Arabia over its execution of a Shiite cleric.

The protest happened Sunday on Sitra Island, south of Bahrain's capital, Manama. The demonstrators numbered into the hundreds and chanted that Nimr al-Nimr is "our martyr."

Hundreds also marched in al-Daih, west of Manama, chanting slogans against Saudi Arabia's ruling Al Saud family and the Sunni family ruling Bahrain.

The protests followed protests yesterday after Saudi Arabia announced it had executed al-Nimr. Bahrain's Interior Ministry announced Sunday it had arrested "several rioters and vandals ... along with a small number of people who misused social media for illegal purposes" over the protests.

Al-Nimr was an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia's Sunni monarchy but denied ever calling for violence. His execution has sparked outrage among Shiites across the region.

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5 p.m.

The leader of Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah has offered condolences to the family of Saudi Arabia's prominent opposition Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed a day earlier.

In a televised speech on Sunday, Hassan Nasrallah described al-Nimr as "the martyr, the holy warrior," and also gave condolences to the people of Saudi Arabia's Shiite eastern regions.

Earlier, protesters gathered in Beirut at the Saudi Embassy and United Nations buildings to denounce the execution carried out by Saudi Arabia.

Hezbollah also issued a statement, with Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem condemning the execution as "a sign of shame and weakness for Saudi Arabia."

He said Saudi Arabia has "arrived at its point of maximum weakness and is digging its own grave. It has taken the path of cowards."

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4:30 p.m.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has called Iran's foreign minister after Saudi Arabia executed a Shiite cleric.

An EU statement said Mogherini had a "long conversation" with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. It said Zarif explained how Iran sought to "defuse the tensions and protect the Saudi diplomats" after the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was attacked overnight.

The statement said both agree "no effort should be spared by all parties to keep the situation under control and to avoid sectarian tensions to escalate."

Saudi Arabia executed Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others convicted on terror charges, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants.

Al-Nimr was an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia's Sunni monarchy but denied ever calling for violence. His execution has sparked outrage among Shiites across the region.

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3:30 p.m.

Witnesses say some 400 protesters have gathered at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran after it was stormed overnight.

Authorities had told demonstrators not to protest in front of the embassy and instead gather at a square in central Tehran. The 400 protesters apparently disregarded that, shouting: "Death to Al-Saud!"

Meanwhile, the road the embassy sits on in northern Tehran saw a new street sign come up in recent hours. Instead of saying "Boustan" or "park" in Farsi, it now reads "Sheikh Nimr St." in honor of the Shiite cleric that Saudi Arabia executed on Saturday.

Tehran authorities could not be immediately reached for comment about the apparent name change for the street.

Saudi Arabia executed Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others convicted on terror charges, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants.

Al-Nimr was an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia's Sunni monarchy but denied ever calling for violence. His execution has sparked outrage among Shiites across the region.

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3:05 p.m.

Protesters have gathered in the Lebanese capital Beirut to denounce Saudi Arabia's execution of prominent opposition Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

The Sunday gatherings, at the Saudi Embassy and United Nations buildings, come ahead of an expected speech by the leader of the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah issued a statement condemning the execution, with Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem calling it "a sign of shame and weakness for Saudi Arabia."

He said Saudi Arabia has "arrived at its point of maximum weakness and is digging its own grave. It has taken the path of cowards."

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3 p.m.

The family of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an opposition Shiite cleric executed by Saudi Arabia, plans to hold three days of mourning, though they say they weren't able to claim his body.

The sheikh's brother, Mohammed al-Nimr, told The Associated Press that Saudi officials told his family that the cleric was already buried in an undisclosed cemetery.

Al-Nimr says they would hold three days of mourning beginning Sunday night at the Imam Hussein Mosque in al-Awamiya, a village in eastern Saudi Arabia, where the Shiite minority is concentrated.

He says bakeries, pharmacies, shops and gas stations in the area will close out of respect.

Nimr al-Nimr was among 47 people executed Saturday after being convicted of terrorism charges. He was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government but denied advocating violence.

His execution has generated outrage among Shiites across the Middle East and there are concerns the funeral could lead to unrest.

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1:50 p.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called an attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran "unjustifiable."

In comments Sunday, Rouhani also condemned Saudi Arabia's execution of opposition Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, which sparked the attack on the embassy and generated outrage among Shiites across the region.

Rouhani said he ordered the Interior Ministry to apprehend those responsible for the embassy attack and bring them to court to "end forever such ugly acts." He also called the embassy attackers "extremists."

Protesters in Iran, angered by al-Nimr's execution, broke into the Saudi Embassy early Sunday, setting fires and throwing papers from the roof.

Al-Nimr was among 47 people executed Saturday after being convicted of terrorism charges. He was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government but denied advocating violence.

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1:40 p.m.

The U.N.'s top human rights official has strongly criticized Saudi Arabia for executing 47 people in a single day.

Zeid Raad al-Hussein says the execution Saturday was "a very disturbing development indeed, particularly as some of those sentenced to death were accused of non-violent crimes."

He says international law only permits the death penalty in cases where the crimes committed are considered "most serious" and human rights bodies have consistently defined those as being "being restricted to murder and other forms of intentional killing."

In a statement Sunday, he questioned whether due process had been observed during the trials of those executed, all of whom were convicted of terrorism charges.

Those executed included prominent Shiite opposition figure Nimr Al-Nimr, three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants.

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1 p.m.

Iraq's top Shiite cleric has condemned the execution of a prominent Shiite opposition figure in Saudi Arabia, calling him a "martyr."

In a statement Sunday, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani extends his condolences for the "martyrdom" of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and others from eastern Saudi Arabia, where the Shiite minority is concentrated.

He adds that "their blood was unjustly and aggressively shed."

Al-Nimr and three other Shiite dissidents were among 47 people executed by Saudi Arabia on Saturday after being convicted of terrorism charges. Those executed also included a number of al-Qaida militants.

Al-Nimr was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government and a central figure in Shiite protests before his arrest in 2012. He denied ever advocating violence.

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11:25 a.m.

The BBC is reporting that one of 47 people executed by Saudi Arabia was convicted of the 2004 shooting that killed one of its cameramen and wounded a correspondent.

The BBC World Service reported on Sunday that Adel al-Dhubaiti, among the 47 executed Saturday, was convicted over the shooting. Al-Dhubaiti took part in the attack outside the house of a suspected al-Qaida militant.

The June 2004 shooting in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, killed 36-year-old Irish cameraman Simon Cumbers. British reporter Frank Gardner, now the BBC's security correspondent, was seriously wounded in the attack and paralyzed, but survived.

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11 a.m.

Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard has compared Saudi Arabia's execution of an opposition Shiite cleric to attacks carried out by the extremist Islamic State group.

The Guard says in a statement Sunday that Saudi Arabia's "medieval act of savagery" in putting Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr to death will lead to the "downfall" of the monarchy.

The comments by the Guard mirror those of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who also strongly criticized the sheikh's execution.

Protesters in Iran, angered by al-Nimr's execution, broke into the Saudi Embassy early Sunday, setting fires and throwing papers from the roof.

Al-Nimr was among 47 people executed Saturday after being convicted of terrorism charges. He was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government but denied advocating violence.

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10:45 a.m.

Iranian authorities say 40 people have been arrested on suspicion of taking part in an attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran after the execution of an opposition Shiite cleric in the kingdom.

Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi announcing the arrests Sunday.

The prosecutor said "investigations to identify other persons involved in this incident are ongoing."

Protesters in Iran, angered by Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr's execution Saturday, broke into the Saudi Embassy early Sunday, setting fires and throwing papers from the roof.

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10 a.m.

Iran's Supreme Leader says Saudi Arabia will face "divine revenge" after the execution of a revered Shiite cleric.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the comments Sunday, a day after Riyadh announced the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Khamenei's website carried the comments by the ayatollah, who also criticized the ongoing Saudi-led war in Yemen against Shiite rebels, as well as the "persecution" of Shiites living in Saudi-allied Bahrain.

Also on Sunday, Khamenei's Twitter account said: "Doubtlessly, unfairly spilled blood of oppressed martyr (hashtag)SheikhNimr will affect rapidly & Divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians."

Protesters in Iran, angered by al-Nimr's execution, broke into the Saudi Embassy early Sunday, setting fires and throwing papers from the roof.

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9:40 a.m.

Saudi Arabia says that by condemning the execution of an opposition Shiite cleric, Iran has "revealed its true face represented in support for terrorism."

A Foreign Ministry statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency accuses Tehran of "blind sectarianism" and says that "by its defense of terrorist acts" Iran is a "partner in their crimes in the entire region."

Shiite-majority Iran expressed outrage over the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was put to death along with 46 others convicted of terrorism charges, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants.

Al-Nimr was a central figure in protests by Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority until his arrest in 2012. He was critical of the Saudi government and but denied ever advocating violence.