Saudi Arabia breaks diplomatic ties with Iran following protests over execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr

Clara Guibourg
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Protesters hold up photos of al-Nimr at a demonstration in Bahrain (Source: Getty)

Saudi Arabia has announced it has broken all diplomatic ties with Iran following the criticised execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Al-Nimr was one of 47 executed in Saudi Arabia yesterday, having been found guilty of “terrorism”. The cleric has been a long-time critic of Saudi’s Sunni royal family.

Condemned by Shia leaders, the execution of the well-known cleric quickly worsened tensions between the countries, sparking demonstrations not just in Tehran but also in Beirut, Baghdad and Bahrain.

Late last night, protesters stormed and torched the Saudi embassy in Tehran, prompting Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir to announce at a press conference that diplomatic ties would be severed on Sunday evening, and that all Iranian diplomats must leave the country within the next 48 hours.

The minister added that Riyadh would not allow Iran to undermine Saudi Arabia’s security.

Saudi diplomats have already been evacuated from Tehran, according to reports in UAE-based al-Arabiya.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attempted to calm angry tensions, denouncing the protesters’ attack on the embassy as “appalling” and calling for the arrest of the culprits.

The execution of al-Nimr had previously been described by UK Treasury minister David Gauke as a “worrying development” and the US Department of State warned that it risked “exacerbating sectarian tensions” at a time when they urgently need to be reduced.