Saudi Arabia severs ties with Iran over embassy attack

Diplomatic tensions rise after storming of Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran on Sunday.

Iranian security stand guard outside Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran that was stormed by protesters on January 3, 2016. Ebrahim Noroozi / AP Photo
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Riyadh // Saudi Arabia on Sunday severed ties with Iran over the storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, in a worsening diplomatic crisis between the regional rivals following the kingdom’s execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric.

Foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir told a news conference that Iran’s diplomatic mission and related entities in Saudi Arabia had been given 48 hours to leave. He said Riyadh would not allow the Islamic republic to undermine the kingdom’s security.

Earlier, Saudi Arabia accused Iran of sponsoring terror and undermining regional stability in a response to Tehran’s strong criticism over the execution of Sheikh Nimr Al Nimr.

The cleric, who spent more than a decade studying theology in Iran and had been a driving force behind Shiite-led anti-government protests in Saudi Arabia since 2011, was among a group 47 people convicted of terrorism who were executed on Saturday. The group included many Al Qaeda-linked militants involved in deadly bombings in the kingdom since 2003.

Iran “is the last regime in the world that could accuse others of supporting terrorism, considering it is a state that sponsors terror, and is condemned by the United Nations and many countries”, the Saudi foreign ministry said.

“Iran’s regime has no shame as it rants on human rights matters, even after it executed hundreds of Iranians last year without a clear legal basis.”

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran was stormed early on Sunday when protesters broke into the building, smashed furniture and lit fires inside before being cleared by police.

Demonstrators also set fire to the Saudi consulate in Mashhad, Iran’s second-biggest city.

The storming of the embassy was widely condemned. In the UAE, the Foreign Ministry summoned Iran’s ambassador, Mohammad Reza Fayyad, to protest at Iranian intervention in Saudi Arabia’s sovereign affairs and the attacks on the Saudi diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad.

The embassy attack was also condemned by fellow GCC members Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, as well as Egypt, Al Azhar, the leading Sunni institution based in Cairo, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

The Iranian president Hassan Rouhani condemned the execution of Al Nimr but also denounced the attacks on the embassy and consulate as “totally unjustifiable”.

The Saudi foreign ministry summoned the Iranian ambassador in Riyadh on Saturday to protest at Tehran’s “aggressive” statement on the execution of Al Nimr.

Iran said in reaction to Al Nimr’s execution that “the Saudi government supports terrorist movements and extremists, but confronts domestic critics with oppression and execution” and warned that it would “pay a high price”.

Iran’s statements reveal its “true face as a backer of terrorism, which is a continuation of its policies in undermining security and stability in the region”, the Saudi foreign ministry said.

“By defending the acts of terrorists … the Iranian regime is considered a partner in their crimes and is held completely responsible for its policies of incitement and escalation.”

Iran has offered “many Al Qaeda leaderships safe haven since 2001” in addition to “offering an Iranian passport” to a Saudi man accused of involvement in 1996 bombings in the kingdom who was arrested last year, the ministry said.

It criticised Iran’s “flagrant interferences in regional countries, including Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, as well as Syria where it has directly intervened through its Revolutionary Guard and Shiite militia” causing the death of tens of thousands of Syrians.

Iran-linked cells smuggling explosives and arms to Bahrain and Kuwait have also been uncovered, the kingdom said.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are supporting opposite sides in several conflict zones across the region.

As well as supporting rebel groups opposed to Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, an ally of Tehran, Saudi Arabia leads a regional coalition that includes the UAE to subdue an uprising by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and restore the internationally recognised government.

The Yemeni president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi voiced support yesterday for the Saudi judicial process in the execution of the 47 convicted terrorists. In a message to King Salman, he said it sent a strong message to terrorist groups in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other Arab or Islamic countries.

* Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Wam