Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Saudi Arabian politicians will face “divine vengeance” for executing prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.
•Iran’s Supreme Leader warns of ‘divine vengeance’ for execution of Shiite cleric
•Comments came after protesters attacked Saudi embassy in Tehran
•US warns execution could inflame sectarian tensions
•UN’s Ban Ki-moon ‘deeply dismayed’
The comments came as Iranian officials announced that 40 people had been arrested for attacking the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran with fire bombs.
The angry crowd set the building on fire and destroyed its interior.
“The unjustly spilled blood of this oppressed martyr will no doubt soon show its effect and divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians,” state TV reported Ayatollah Khamenei as saying.
“This scholar neither encouraged people into armed action nor secretly conspired for plots but the only thing he did was utter public criticism rising from his religious zeal.”
It said he described the execution as a “political error”.
Sheikh Nimr was executed along with 46 others on Saturday, including three other Shiites and dozens of Al Qaeda members.
Riyadh considered him a terrorist, but he was hailed in Iran as a champion of the rights of Saudi Arabia’s marginalised Shiite minority.
Analysts have speculated that the execution of Sheikh Nimr and the other Shiites was partly to demonstrate to Saudi Arabia’s majority Sunni Muslims that the government did not differentiate between political violence committed by members of the two sects.
Despite the regional focus on Sheikh Nimr, the executions seemed mostly aimed at discouraging jihadism in Saudi Arabia, where dozens have died in the past year in attacks by Sunni militants.
The ruling Al Saud family has grown increasingly worried in recent years as Middle East turmoil, especially in Syria and Iraq, has boosted Sunni jihadists seeking to bring it down and given room to Iran to spread its influence.
A nuclear deal with Iran backed by Saudi Arabia’s biggest ally and protector, the United States, has done little to calm nerves in Riyadh.
But Saudi Arabia’s Western allies, many of whom supply it with arms, are growing concerned about its new assertiveness in the region and at home.
The US State Department said Sheikh Nimr’s execution “risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced”.
The sentiment was echoed almost verbatim by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and an official at the German Foreign Ministry.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply dismayed” by the execution.
“Sheikh Nimr and a number of the other prisoners executed had been convicted following trials that raised serious concerns over the nature of the charges and the fairness of the process,” Mr Ban’s spokesman said in a statement.
Mr Ban raised the case with Saudi leaders on a number of occasions and urged Saudi Arabia to commute all death sentences that had been imposed, the spokesman said.
“The Secretary-General also calls for calm and restraint in reaction to the execution of Sheikh Nimr and urges all regional leaders to work to avoid the exacerbation of sectarian tensions,” the spokesman said.