Saudi Arabia has decided to break off diplomatic ties with Iran, amid a row over the execution of Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in the Sunni Muslim kingdom, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir has announced.
Adel al-Jubeir was speaking after demonstrators had stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others were executed on January 2 after being convicted of terror-related offences.
Adel al-Jubeir said that all Iranian diplomats must leave Saudi Arabia within 48 hours.
Saudi Arabia was recalling its diplomats from Tehran, he said.
Adel al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia would not let Iran undermine its security, accusing it of having “distributed weapons and planted terrorist cells in the region”.
“Iran’s history is full of negative interference and hostility in Arab issues, and it is always accompanied by destruction,” he told a news conference.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said: “We will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions.”
“We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential,” he said.
Earlier on January 3, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that Saudi Arabia would face “divine revenge” for the execution – an act which also angered Shia Muslims elsewhere in the Middle East.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr a “martyr” who had acted peacefully.
Protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran on January 2, setting fire to the building before being driven back by police. The Saudi foreign ministry said none of its diplomats had been harmed in the incident.
Iran is Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival – they back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
Relations between the countries have been strained over various issues in recent decades, including Iran’s nuclear program and deaths of Iranians at the Hajj pilgrimage in 1987 and again in 2015.
Most of the 47 people executed by Saudi Arabia were Sunnis convicted of involvement in al-Qaeda-linked terror attacks over the last decade.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was involved in anti-government protests that erupted in Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Arab Spring, up to his arrest in 2012.
The execution sparked new demonstrations in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, where Shia Muslims complain of marginalization, as well as in Iraq, Bahrain and several other countries.
The top Shia cleric in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani denounced the execution as an “unjust aggression”.
The leader of Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, launched his sharpest attack yet on the Saudi ruling family on January 3, accusing them of seeking to ignite a Shia-Sunni civil war across the world.
Hassan Nasrallah said the blood of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr would “plague the Al Saud [family] until the Day of Resurrection”, prompting cries of “Death to the Al Saud!” among an audience watching his address.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned that Saudi Arabia will face “divine revenge” for its execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr as a “martyr” who acted peacefully.
Protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran on January 2, setting fire to the building before being driven back by police.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was one of 47 people executed for terrorism offences.
Ayatollah Khamenei said Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr had been executed for his opposition to Saudi Arabia’s Sunni rulers.
The ayatollah tweeted: “This oppressed scholar had neither invited people to armed movement, nor was involved in covert plots.”
“The only act of #SheikhNimr was outspoken criticism,” he added, saying the “unfairly-spilled blood of oppressed martyr #SheikhNimr will affect rapidly & Divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians”.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr had been a figurehead in the anti-government protests that erupted in the wake of the Arab Spring up to his arrest in 2012.
Iran – Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival – has led condemnation among Shia communities over the execution.
The foreign ministry in Tehran said the Sunni kingdom would pay a high price for its action, and it summoned the Saudi charge d’affaires in Tehran in protest.
Some of the protesters at the Saudi embassy in Tehran hurled petrol bombs and rocks. Forty people have been arrested, officials said.
There have also been demonstrations in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, where Shia Muslims complain of marginalization, as well as in Iraq, Bahrain and several other countries.
For its part, Saudi Arabia complained to the Iranian envoy in Riyadh about what it called “blatant interference” in its internal affairs.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s execution has worsened long-running tensions between the two Middle Eastern nations, which support opposite sides in the Syrian and Yemen conflicts.
The US and UN have both called for restraint.
In a statement after the executions, State Department spokesman John Kirby appealed to Saudi Arabia’s government to respect and protect human rights, and to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings.
John Kirby also urged the Saudi government to permit peaceful expression of dissent and, along with other leaders in the region, to redouble efforts to reduce regional tensions.
Most of the 47 executed by Saudi Arabia were Sunnis convicted of involvement in al-Qaeda-linked terror attacks last decade.
Saudi Arabia carried out more than 150 executions in 2015, the highest figure recorded by human rights groups for 20 years.
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