DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia executed 81 people Saturday convicted of crimes ranging from killings to belonging to militant groups, the largest known mass execution carried out in the kingdom in its modern history.
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 choose Saturday for the executions, though they came as much of the world’s attention remained focused on Russia’s war on Ukraine. While the death penalty in Saudi Arabia declined during the coronavirus epidemic, Saudi Arabia continued to hang executionists from King Salman’s reign and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency announced Saturday’s executions, saying they included those “convicted of various crimes, including the murdering of innocent men, women and children.” The kingdom also said some of those executed were members of al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and also backers of Yemen’s Houthi rebels. To restore an internationally recognized government, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has been fighting Iran-backed Houthis from 2015 to 2015.
It did not provide any breakdown of executions or indicate where they took place.
“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,” the Saudi Press Agency 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. Although death row inmates are often executed in Saudi Arabia, it was not clear how they were executed.
An announcement by Saudi state television described those executed as having “followed the footsteps of Satan” in carrying out their crimes.
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.
For terrorism-related offenses, 37 Saudi citizens were executed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2019 mass executions.
In the long history of oil-rich Kingdoms, the 1979 seizing of Grand Mosque is a pivotal moment.
The Grand Mosque was taken by a group of Saudi Sunni extremists. This is the place where Muslims can pray five times daily to the Kaaba cube-shaped Kaaba. Official death toll was 229 after a two-week siege. The kingdom’s rulers soon further embraced Wahhabism, an ultraconservative Islamic doctrine.
Since taking power, Crown Prince Mohammed under his father has increasingly liberalized life in the kingdom, opening movie theaters, allowing women to drive and defanging the country’s once-feared religious police.
U.S. intelligence agency believe Jamal Khashoggi had been killed by the crown prince while he was in charge of airstrikes that have resulted in the deaths of many civilians.
Follow Jon Gambrell at Twitter http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.