- Islamic State sympathizers have killed dozens in Saudi Arabia over the past 12 months
- The Syria and Iraq-based militant group has called on its followers in Saudi Arabia to stay home and conduct attacks there instead of travelling to join the caliphate it declared in 2014
- Amnesty International says it takes the reports very seriously, given the spike in executions in the country
- Saudi Arabia has already executed over 150 people this year, mostly by public beheading
- The last time Saudi Arabia carried out mass executions for security offences was after a group of Islamist militants seized Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1979
Rights group Amnesty International has expressed alarm at reports that the authorities in Saudi Arabia are planning to execute dozens of people in a single day.
Fifty-five people were awaiting execution for “terrorist crimes” that killed more than 100 civilians and 71 security personnel, the newspaper Okaz reported on Thursday, without specifying when the executions would occur.
On Monday, the semi-official newspaper al-Riyadh reported that 52 people would be put to death soon, but it later pulled the story from its website without explanation.
Amnesty said that given the spike in executions this year, it had no option but to take the reports very seriously.
According to the rights group, Saudi Arabia has already executed over 150 people this year, mostly by public beheading – the most in 20 years.
In 2014, the total number of executions carried out was reported to be 90.
Some of those facing execution were affiliated with al Qaeda, Okaz said. Others are from Awamiya, a largely Shi’ite town in the oil-producing Eastern Province where the government has suppressed demonstrations for equal rights.
Diplomats in Riyadh say their governments have been assured Saudi Arabia will not execute Shi’ites convicted after protests.
Awamiya residents responded to the news by closing off roads leading into the city with burning debris, local activists said.
The alleged al Qaeda militants stand accused of attempts to overthrow the government and carry out attacks using small weapons, explosives and surface-to-air missiles, the newspaper said.
One prisoner was accused of trying to buy nuclear material in Yemen worth $1.5 million for use inside Saudi Arabia.
The charges against the Awamiya residents include sedition, attacks on security officials and interference in neighbouring Bahrain, which has also experienced unrest since 2011.
Awamiya is a town in the Qatif region of oil-rich Eastern Province.
Since 2011, it has been the centre of protests by Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, which has long complained of marginalization at the hands of the Sunni monarchy.
The Saudi monarchy has in recent years sentenced to death dozens of people convicted of taking part in al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia from 2003-06 and again in 2009.
Islamic State sympathisers have killed dozens in Saudi Arabia over the past 12 months with a string of mosque bombings and shootings aimed at members of the Shi’ite Muslim minority as well as security officers and Western expatriates.
The Syria and Iraq-based militant group has called on its followers in Saudi Arabia to stay home and conduct attacks there instead of travelling to join the caliphate it declared in 2014.
Coalition against terror
Saudi police have detained hundreds of the group’s suspected sympathizers and have joined an international coalition carrying out air strikes against it in Syria. Riyadh has also deployed state-affiliated clergy to denounce jihadist ideology.
Saudi courts have also sentenced to death this year seven Shi’ite men convicted of sedition, for taking part in pro-democracy protests and attacks on police during demonstrations over discrimination from 2011-13.
“It is clear that the Saudi Arabian authorities are using the guise of counter-terrorism to settle political scores,” said James Lynch, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director.
“Three of those six activists were sentenced for ‘crimes’ committed while they were children and have said that they were tortured to confess.”
The three juvenile offenders are Ali al-Nimr – whose case sparked a global outcry earlier this year – Abdullah al-Zaher and Hussein al-Marhoon.
On Tuesday, the mothers of five of the six activists wrote to King Salman, imploring him to grant clemency, after learning that their sons had been subjected to a “random” medical examination. They believed it was a sign of impending execution.
“These executions must not go ahead and Saudi Arabia must lift the veil of secrecy around its death penalty cases, as part of a fundamental overhaul of its criminal justice system,” Mr Lynch warned.
Saudi authorities argue that death sentences are carried out in line with Sharia and with the strictest fair trial standards and safeguards in place.
The last time Saudi Arabia carried out mass executions for security offences was after a group of Islamist militants seized Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1979.