West News Wire: Saudi Arabia has carried out 81 executions. Saturday, convicted of offenses ranging from murder to membership in militant groups, the kingdom’s largest known mass execution in modern history.

The number of executions carried out topped the 63 militants convicted of capturing the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979, the worst-ever militant attack on the kingdom and Islam’s holiest site, who were executed in January 1980.

Though much of the world’s attention remained focused on Russia’s war on Ukraine, it was unclear why the kingdom chose Saturday for the executions.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the number of death penalty cases in Saudi Arabia decreased, but the kingdom continued to behead criminals under King Salman and his aggressive son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The executions were announced Saturday by the Saudi Press Agency, which said those executed were “convicted of numerous crimes, including the murdering of innocent men, women, and children.” Some of them executed, according to the monarchy, were members of al-Qaida, the Islamic State, and supporters of Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the Iran-backed Houthis in neighboring Yemen in an attempt to restore control to the internationally recognized government.

The report provided no breakdown for those executed, not say where the executions took place.

“The accused were provided with the right to an attorney and were guaranteed their full rights under Saudi law during the judicial process, which found them guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes that left a large number of civilians and law enforcement officers dead,” the Saudi Press Agency said.

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“The kingdom will continue to take a strict and unwavering stance against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten the stability of the entire world,” the report added. It did not say how the prisoners were executed, though death-row inmates typically are beheaded in Saudi Arabia.

An announcement by Saudi state television described those executed as having “followed the footsteps of Satan” in carrying out their crimes.

The kingdom’s last mass execution came in January 2016, when the kingdom executed 47 people, including a prominent opposition Shiite cleric who had rallied demonstrations in the kingdom.

In 2019, the kingdom beheaded 37 Saudi citizens, most of them minority Shiites, in a mass execution across the country.

The 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque remains a crucial moment in the history of the oil-rich kingdom.

A band of ultraconservative Saudi Sunni militants took the Grand Mosque, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that Muslims pray toward five times a day, demanding the Al Saud royal family abdicate. A two-week siege that followed ended with an official death toll of 229 killed. The kingdom’s rulers soon further embraced Wahhabism, an ultraconservative Islamic doctrine.

Since taking power, Crown Prince Mohammed under his father has increasingly liberalized life in the kingdom, opening movie theaters, allowing women to drive and defanging the country’s once-feared religious police.

However, U.S. intelligence agencies believe the crown prince also ordered the slaying and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, while overseeing airstrikes in Yemen that killed hundreds of civilians.

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