Saudi Arabia said Sunday that it was severing its ties with Iran.
This comes hours after Iranian protesters attacked the Saudi Embassy, setting fire in the embassy compound in Tehran. Iranian diplomats and staff had 48 hours to leave the country, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said.
Tensions have flared between the two countries since the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was announced by the Saudis on Saturday. Al-Nimr, a popular cleric among Shiite Muslims who advocated free Saudi elections during Arab Spring protests in 2011-2012, was among 47 who were executed – either by shooting or beheading – by the Saudi government. The deaths were highly criticized, sparking demonstrations in the Qatif region in eastern Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Embassy in Tehran was attacked, with protesters starting fire and breaking furniture.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned the attacks on the embassy. “In no way is this justifiable and foremost disrespects Iran,” he said. “Such ugly acts (must be) stopped, and full security of political missions assured.”
According to Tehran’s police chief, a number of “unruly elements” were taken into custody following the attacks. As reported by USA Today, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dowlatabadi said that as many as 40 arrests have been made in connection with the attack.
“The unjustly spilled blood of this oppressed martyr will no doubt soon show its effect and divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians,” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said. Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that, by severing ties, Riyadh could not cover up “its major mistake of executing Sheikh Nimr.”
A Saudi official said that the executions were “implementation of sharia rulings,” adding that the people executed were terrorists.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said he was “shocked and saddened” over al-Nimr’s execution. “Peaceful opposition is a fundamental right. Repression does not last,” he said. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shiite militia in Lebanon, said that the cleric’s execution would “plague the Al Saud until the Day of Resurrection,”
The United States urged the Middle East powers to take “affirmative action” to lower tensions. “We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential in working through differences and we will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions,” an official of President Barack Obama’s administration said, as reported by Reuters.
Sarah Leah, Middle East director of the U.S.-based non profit Human Rights Watch, said that the executions “only further stains Saudi Arabia’s troubling human rights record.”