Saudi Arabia’s mass execution of 43 convicted members of al Qaeda has prompted Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the jihadist group, to call for revenge attacks against the Gulf kingdom and its Western allies, according to a U.S.-based organization that monitors jihadi activity.
“Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called in an audio speech for fighters to attack interests of the ‘Zionist-Crusader alliance’ in revenge for the execution of Sunni militants and scholars by Saudi Arabia,” reports the SITE Intelligence Group.
Earlier this week, Ibrahim bin Hassan al-Asiri, the expert bomb-maker from the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), threatened Saudi Arabia in an audio recording, vowing retribution in response to Riyadh’s mass execution of several militants earlier this month, including members of the terrorist group. Some analysts consider AQAP to be the jihadist organization’s most potent and dangerous branch.
On Jan. 2, Saudi Arabia executed 47 prisoners, including 43 members of al Qaeda.
The remaining four detainees were Shi’ites, including prominent Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. His death has inflamed sectarian tensions between the two regional rivals, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite powerhouse Iran.
“The Islamist militant group’s global branch warned on Monday that Saudi Arabia would pay for the killings, alongside those of four Shi’ite Muslims including a prominent cleric whose deaths raised regional tensions,” reports Reuters.
“The statement by Ayman al-Zawahri, who has the allegiance of al Qaeda branches across the region, urged Saudis to overthrow the Al Saud ruling dynasty and the movement’s followers elsewhere to damage the kingdom by attacking its Western allies,” it adds.
Saudi Arabia’s mass execution has been described by various news outlets as the largest since 1980.
“Is it not time for you to get rid of this rotten regime that corrupted your religion and your worldly life?” said Zawahiri, addressing the Al Saud dynasty.
“The best revenge for your brothers is through inflicting the Zionist-Crusader alliance,” he added, addressing militants elsewhere.
Reuters points out that the 43 jihadists executed on Jan. 2 had been convicted of participating in attacks launched by al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia between 2003 and 2006 that killed hundreds of local civilians and foreigners.
“Saudi analysts said the execution of cleric Nimr al-Nimr and three other Shi’ites alongside the al Qaeda members, after their convictions for police shootings, was a message to majority Sunnis that Riyadh would punish attacks by both sects,” reports Reuters.
Zawahiri argued that the execution of the prominent Shiite cleric was a ploy by Saudi Arabia to win support against Iran from Sunnis across the Middle East
“His killing is one of the manifestations of the Saudi-Iranian competition for power in the region, but under the umbrella of protecting and complying with the interests of America,” he said.
Al Qaeda’s Sunni rival, the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), threatened to destroy the Saudi Arabian prisons where the 43 al Qaeda jihadists were executed.
“Both organizations are fighting against Saudi Arabia, which has declared them terrorist groups and locked up thousands of their supporters,” reported Reuters Monday, noting in an earlier articles, “While Islamic State and al-Qaeda are rivals who have condemned each other on ideological grounds, they are both united in enmity towards Saudi Arabia, which has declared them terrorist groups and locked up thousands of their supporters.”