Riyadh – A Saudi court has sentenced four people to death for links to regional rival Iran, alleging that they were plotting the assassination of “prominent figures”, state media said on Thursday.
“The criminal court has sentenced four terrorists to death for forming a cell for Iran,” the state-owned Al-Ekhbariya TV reported. “The terrorists were trained in camps in Iran” and “planned to assassinate prominent figures,” Al-Ekhbariya said, without giving any more details on those convicted.
Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Iran, the predominant Shia power, have a long history of rivalry. They today stand on opposing sides of conflicts in the Middle East, from Syria to Yemen. In December 2016, a Saudi court sentenced 15 people to death for spying for Iran, according to local media. A source said then that most of them were members of the kingdom’s Shia minority. Earlier in 2016, regional tensions spiked when Riyadh executed prominent Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a driving force behind anti-government protests, for “terrorism”.
The ultra-conservative kingdom has one of the world’s highest rates of execution, with suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking facing the death penalty.
Rights experts have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of trials in the kingdom, governed under a strict form of Islamic law. The government says the death penalty is a deterrent for further crime.