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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday executed 37 of its citizens convicted of terrorism, three years after another mass execution ultimately led to a break in relations with Iran.

The latest executions were carried out in Riyadh, the holy cities of Makkah and Madina, the predominantly Sunni province of Qassim, and in the Eastern Province, home to the country’s Shia minority.

The men were executed “for adopting terrorist and extremist thinking and for forming terrorist cells to corrupt and destabilise security”, said the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

It said one person was crucified after his execution, a punishment reserved for particularly serious crimes.

At least 100 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the start of the year, according to data released by SPA.

On Sunday, four men were killed in an attack on a security services base north of the capital Riyadh in an assault claimed by the militant Islamic State (IS) group.

Saudi authorities arres­ted 13 “terrorist” suspects the next day, but they did not say where the arrests took place or if they were linked to Sunday’s attack.

The interior ministry said some of those executed on Tuesday were accused of “inciting sectarian strife”.

It said the individuals had been found guilty according to the law and ordered executed by the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh, which specialises in terrorism trials, and the country’s high court.

The individuals were found guilty of attacking security installations with explosives, killing a number of security officers and cooperating with enemy organisations against the interests of the country, the ministry said.

The statement was carried across state-run media, including the Saudi news channel al-Ekhbariya.

The Eastern Province has seen bouts of unrest since 2011 when protesters emboldened by the Arab Spring took to the streets demanding an end to alleged discrimination by the Sunni-dominated government.

Although no official figures exist, Shias make up an estimated 10-15 per cent of the conservative kingdom’s 32 million population.

In January 2016, Saudi Arabia enraged Iran with the execution of prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, among a group of 47 people convicted of terrorism.

Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran were attacked in violent demonstrations, prom­pting Riyadh to sever relations with Tehran.

Riyadh accuses Tehran of attempting to “destabilise” the region and of interfering in other countries’ internal affairs.

Executions in the conservative kingdom are usually carried out by beheading.

Last year, the oil-rich Gulf state carried out 149 death sentences, according to Amnesty International, which said only Iran was known to have executed more people.

People convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking face the death penalty, which the Saudi government says serves as a deterrent against serious crimes.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2019