Saudis execute 81 for terror-related crimes, in largest mass execution on record

Riydah says convicts, all put to death in one day, committed ‘multiple heinous crimes’; says some were linked to Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Yemen’s Houthi rebels

An honor guard member is covered by the flag of Saudi Arabia, in Washington, on March 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
An honor guard member is covered by the flag of Saudi Arabia, in Washington, on March 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia said Saturday it executed 81 people in one day on a variety of terrorism-related offenses, exceeding the total number of executions in the kingdom in the whole of last year.

All had been “found guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, saying they included convicts linked to the Islamic State group, or to al-Qaeda, Yemen’s Houthi rebel forces, or “other terrorist organizations.”

They had been plotting attacks on vital economic sites, or had targeted or had killed members of the security forces, or had smuggled weapons into the country, the SPA added.

Of the 81 people, 73 were Saudi citizens, seven were Yemeni and one was a Syrian national.

“The accused were provided with the right to an attorney and were guaranteed their full rights under Saudi law during the judicial process, which found them guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes that left a large number of civilians and law enforcement officers dead,” SPA said.

“The kingdom will continue to take a strict and unwavering stance against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten the stability of the entire world,” the report added. It did not say how the prisoners were executed, though death-row inmates typically are beheaded in Saudi Arabia.

The wealthy Gulf country has one of the world’s highest execution rates.

The kingdom’s last mass execution came in January 2016, when the kingdom executed 47 people, including a prominent opposition Shiite cleric who had rallied demonstrations in the kingdom.

A Bahraini anti-government protester holds a banner in Arabic that reads, ‘damn you’ during a demonstration against Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Daih, Bahrain, on January 2, 2016. (AP/Hasan Jamali, File)

Saturday’s announcement marks the kingdom’s highest number of recorded executions in one day, and more than the total of 69 executions in all of 2021.

The executions carried out surpassed even the toll of a January 1980 mass execution for the 63 militants convicted of seizing the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979, the worst-ever militant attack to target the kingdom and Islam’s holiest site.

It wasn’t clear why the kingdom chose Saturday for the executions, though they came as much of the world’s attention remained focused on Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The number of death penalty cases being carried out in Saudi Arabia had dropped during the coronavirus pandemic, though the kingdom continued to behead convicts under King Salman and his assertive son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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