Riyadh: Saudi Arabia executed a prominent cleric and dozens of Al Qaeda members on Saturday, signalling it would not tolerate attacks, stirring sectarian anger across the region.
Hundreds of people marched through Qatif district of Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province in protest at the execution of cleric Nimr Al Nimr, an eyewitness said.
Nimr, the most vocal critic among the minority community, had come to be seen as a leader of the sect's younger activists, who rejected the quiet approach of older community leaders for failing to achieve equality.
Four, including Nimr, were accused of involvement in shooting policemen. But most of the 47 executed in the kingdom's biggest mass execution for decades belonged to majority community and had been convicted of Al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia a decade ago.
The executions took place in 12 cities in Saudi Arabia, four prisons using firing squads and the others beheading. In December, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula threatened to retaliate against Saudi Arabia for any execution of its members.
The executions seemed mostly aimed at discouraging people from war after bombings and shootings by militants in Saudi Arabia over the past year killed dozens and IS militant group called on followers there to stage attacks.
The simultaneous execution of 47 people - 45 Saudis, one Egyptian and a man from Chad - was the biggest mass execution for security offences in Saudi Arabia since the 1980 killing of 63 rebels who seized Grand Mosque in 1979.
The 43 militants executed on Saturday, including several prominent Al Qaeda leaders and ideologues, were convicted for attacks on Western compounds, government buildings and diplomatic missions that killed hundreds from 2003-06.
The four others were convicted of involvement in shootings and petrol bomb attacks that killed several police during protests from 2011-13 in which over 20 members of the minority community were also shot dead by the authorities.
Mustafa Alani, a security analyst close to the Interior Ministry, commented: "There is a huge popular pressure on the government to punish those people. It included all the leaders of Al Qaeda, all the ones responsible for shedding blood. It sends a message."
Family members of the executed people have vigorously denied they were involved in attacks and said they were only peaceful protesters.
The cleric's brother, Mohammed Al Nimr, said he hoped any response in Qatif would be peaceful, but activists said new protests were possible.
"My mobile is getting non-stop messages from friends, all shocked and angry...The fear is for the children among those detained," an activist in Qatif told Reuters.