Execution of 16 Kuwaitis for Mecca Blasts
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ Sixteen Kuwaiti Shiite Moslems were executed today for planting bombs that exploded in Mecca at the height of the Moslem pilgrimage this year, the Interior Ministry announced.
The statement, read over the state-run Riyadh radio, said that another four Kuwaitis received prison terms of 15 and 20 years and 1,000 to 1,500 lashes of the whip. It said another nine Kuwaitis were acquitted.
It was the first public word from Saudi Arabia that anyone had even been arrested in connection with the July 10 explosions, which killed one Pakistani pilgrim and injured 16 pilgrims of various nationalities.
The bombs went off as roughly 2 million Moslems were preparing to head to Mount Arafat for the culmination of the pilgrimage rites. Saudi Arabia is home of Islam’s holiest shrines at Mecca and Medina.
Saudi Arabians, including the ruling family, are members of the majority Sunni Moslem sect. The Sunnis and the minority Shiite sect, which prevails in Iran, are traditional rivals for the alliegance of the world’s nearly 1 billon Moslems. The antagonism dates back to a split that occurred in the 7th century.
Today’s announcement said without elaborating that the executions were carried out in Mecca and ″in accordance with Islamic law.″
Condemned inmates in Saudi Arabia are usually beheaded by sword, often in public squares after Moslem prayers.
The defendants, who came to the kingdom in July as pilgrims, belonged to the Moslem Shiite sect and were of Iranian, Kuwaiti, Saudi and Qatari origin, according to the statement. They were all Kuwaiti nationals.
The announcement said the defendants, who had been tried before an Islamic court, gave full confessions. It said the confession would be broadcast on television.
The announcement said the defendents were tried for ″an evil crime ... an aggression on the sanctity of the holy sites and on the pilgrims ... of the entire Moslem nation.″
The visit of senior Kuwaiti officials in recent weeks had prompted reports that the Saudis were holding and interrogating several Kuwaiti pilgrims.
The latest was a whirlwind visit Tuesday by the Kuwaiti minister of state for foreign affairs, Saud al-Ossaimi, to relay a message from the Kuwaiti leadership.
The Interior Ministry statement said the defendants brought the explosives with them from Kuwait, where they also trained on using them.
It said they held meetings in Kuwait, Medina and Mecca to plan their ″aggression,″ with the confessed aim of spreading ″terror and fear in the hearts of the pilgrims ... and show that the (Saudi Arabia) was unable to protect the house of God.″
It referred to their carrying out their crime ″at the instructions of the unjust ones, who are enemies of this nation and for all pilgrims of God’s house, and cooperating with those unjust ones on such debauchery and terrorism in the most sacred spot in the world.″
The allusion was an apparent reference to Iran, which has been urging Moslems pouring into Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj to seize Mecca and Medina from the ruling Al Saud family.
The Saudi ruling dynasty is the custodian of the holy shrines, which are visited by Moslems as one of the five pillars of their faith.
Under the rule of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Iranian pilgrims tried to turn the Hajj into a political forum to spread his Islamic fundamentalist teachings.
The worst incidents occurred in the pilgrimage of 1987, when the Iranian contingent clashed with Saudi security forces, leading to the death of 402 pilgrims, most of them Iranians.
Riyadh severed ties with Iran the following April and gained the Moslem’s world backing for restricting the number of pilgrims to 1,000 people for each 1 million people of the sending nation’s population.
The Iranians boycotted the Hajj in 1988 and 1989 as a result and there was a fierce war of words between Tehran and Riyadh.
Iran, however, has moved recently to improve ties with Gulf Arab nations including Saudi Arabia. A ″pragmatic″ camp in Tehran, headed by President Hashemi Rafsanjani, is trying to open Iran more to the outside world.
It is opposed by radicals who view links with the pro-Western Saudi rulers as anathema.
Kuwait itself has been a target of several acts of terrorism for which responsibility was laid on Khomeini’s Iran. These acts included an attempt on the Kuwaiti ruler, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah in 1985, and two years earlier the bomb blasts on the U.S. and French embassies in which five people were killed and 86 injured.
All these acts were also carried out by activists among Kuwait’s Shiite Moslem minority, many of them identified as members of the anti-Iraqi underground Daawa party. The Shiites in Kuwait are mainly members of families that came from Iraq and Iran for livelihood in Kuwait.