Saudi Arabia on Saturday executed 81 people 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 number of executed 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.
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.
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.
A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Iran-backed Houthis since 2015 in neighbouring Yemen in an effort to restore the internationally recognized government to power.
Those executed included 73 Saudis, seven Yemenis and one Syrian. The report did not say where the executions took place.
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 did not say how the prisoners were executed, though death-row inmates typically are beheaded in Saudi Arabia.
An announcement by Saudi state television described those executed as having “followed the footsteps of Satan” in carrying out their crimes.
The executions drew immediate international criticism.
Ali Adubusi, the director of the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, alleged that some of those executed had been tortured and faced trials “carried out in secret.”
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.
In 2019, the kingdom beheaded 37 Saudi citizens, most of them minority Shiites, in a mass execution across the country for alleged terrorism-related crimes. It also publicly nailed the severed body and head of a convicted extremist to a pole as a warning to others. Such crucifixions after execution, while rare, do occur in the kingdom.
More: ABC News