When Saudi Arabia executed a Saudi Shiite cleric on New Year’s Eve, the Shiite world ignited in protest. According to the Iranian regime, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s execution was not justified. The Saudi government, however, thinks otherwise.
On Tuesday, Saudi minister of foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir compared the cleric to Osama Bin Laden, arguing that Sheikh Nimr was as much a terrorist as the former al-Qaeda mastermind.
Diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have all but evaporated in the past few days. Following Nimr’s execution, rioters in Tehran stormed the Saudi embassy in the country, looting, ransacking, and firebombing its diplomatic buildings. Infuriated with the developments, the Saudis responded by cancelling all diplomatic ties with Iran and forcing all of its diplomatic personnel to leave Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s Sunni allies in Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, and Sudan followed suit, indefinitely terminating official relations with Iran.
In an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, the Saudi Foreign Minister argued that Nimr al-Nimr’s death sentence was justified.
“Our response is that he is a terrorist,” Jubeir said of Nimr. “He is as much of a religious scholar as Osama bin Laden was.”
“He was implicated in inciting people, recruiting people, providing weapons and munitions for people and he was involved in attacks against security people and police stations that led to the killing of the innocents,” the foreign minister said of Nimr’s charges.
Jubeir insisted that Nimr and the 46 others who were executed that same day had all been given a fair trial by the Saudi Supreme Court.
“The charges are clear, the convictions are clear and when the sentences were carried out — that was the end of it. The Kingdom of Saudi (Arabia) should be commended for showing resolve and taking a firm position against people who kill the innocent, not condemned for it,” he told CNBC. “And as far as the Iranians are concerned, what I find very puzzling is this individual is a Saudi citizen, he committed a crime in Saudi Arabia, he was convicted in a Saudi court and the sentence was carried out by Saudi authorities. What does Iran have to do with this?”
Jubeir then alleged Iran was being hypocritical, given the fact the regime in Tehran executes “hundreds of people every year.”
Moreover, Iran has been “providing supplies for terrorists; they have been recruiting people; they have been assassinating people; they have been sowing sectarianism in the region, splitting the Islamic world,” he added.
Jubeir’s comments are backed by human rights groups that have documented Iran’s execution record. In 2015, Iran had a record-breaking year with 957 confirmed state-sanctioned executions, according to the Iran Human Rights Documentation center.