Saudi Arabia executed 47 people on Saturday, many of whom had been convicted on terrorism related charges, the Interior Ministry said.
Some were beheaded, while others were executed by firing squad. Most of those beheaded were involved in a series of al-Qaeda attacks carried out from 2003-06, the ministry said.
Among those executed was prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr (pictured), 55, a longtime critic of the conservative Sunni kingdom's discrimination against Shiites.
The kingdom arrested hundreds of members of its Shiite minority, estimated at roughly 15 percent of the population, following protests between 2011 and 2013.
Nimr was arrested in 2012 on charges of inciting sectarianism for his leading role in the protests. He had advocated nonviolence but also threatened to lead the oil-rich eastern region to secession if the kingdom did not change its policy toward Shiites.
A number of Shiites have been sentenced to death for their role in the protests, which left several protesters and police dead.
The Shiite protests in Saudi Arabia occurred during mass protests in neighboring Bahrain in 2011. Those Shiite protests against the Sunni monarchy were harshly repressed with the backing of Saudi troops.
Nimr's execution could trigger new protests in Shiite districts and other Middle East countries with Shiite populations.
However, Nimr's brother, Mohammed al-Nimr, said he hoped any protests would be peaceful.
The execution is likely to raise already tense sectarian divisions between Sunnis and Shiites across the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran had said executing Nimr "would cost Saudi Arabia dearly." A top Iranian cleric close to the state, Ahmad Khatami, said on Saturday that the Saudi ruling family would be "wiped from the pages of history."
Condemnations rained down on Saudi Arabia from Shiite political movements across the region.
Lebanese Hezbollah called the execution an "assassination" and Iraqi Shiite parties and militia, many with ties to Iran, condemned Riyadh.
One powerful Iran-backed militia called for Iraq to severe ties with its neighbor just as Saudi Arabia is re-opening its embassy in Baghdad for the first time in 25 years.
Amnesty International had called Nimr's death sentence a part of the monarchy's effort to "crush all dissent."
Executions in the kingdom soared in 2015, with at least 157 beheadings carried out.
Nearly 40 percent of those executions were carried out for drug-related offenses, according to human rights monitors.
The Interior Ministry opened its statement with verses from the Koran justifying execution and state television showed footage of al-Qaeda terror attacks.
cw/se (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)