No Evidence Iran Attacked Saudi Oil Facility, Says President Rouhani

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in New York on September 26, 2019. Rouhani challenged countries who accused Iran of carrying out this month’s attack on a Saudia Arabian oil facility to provide evidence. Kena Betancur / AFP

 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani challenged countries who accused Iran of carrying out this month’s attack on a Saudia Arabian oil facility to provide evidence.

“Those who make the allegations must provide the needed proof. What is your evidence?” he told reporters in New York, a day after addressing the UN General Assembly.

The United States, France, Germany and Britain have all blamed Iran for the strikes on the kingdom’s Abqaiq plant and the Khurais oil field which knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production.

AFP

Saudi Oil Attacks An Iranian ‘Act Of War’, Says Pompeo

 

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced strikes on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure as an “act of war” on Wednesday, as Riyadh unveiled new evidence it said showed the assault was “unquestionably” sponsored by arch-foe Iran.

The comments raise the risk of a wider conflict in the tinderbox Gulf region after the weekend strikes on the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry knocked out half its production, rattling energy markets.

“This was an Iranian attack,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane before landing in the western city of Jeddah, calling it “an act of war”.

“This is an attack of a scale we’ve just not seen before.”

His comment came as Saudi Arabia displayed what it said were fragments of 25 drones and cruise missiles fired at two facilities in the country’s east, engulfing them in flames.

“The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran,” defence ministry spokesman Turki al-Maliki said.

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Tehran-linked Huthi rebels in the kingdom’s southern neighbour Yemen have claimed responsibility, but both Washington and Riyadh have ruled that out.

“We are working to know the exact launch point,” Maliki said.

But he would not be drawn on whether Saudi officials believed Iran would ultimately be found to be the culprit.

Pompeo said there was no evidence for media reports the attacks had been launched from Iraq — caught between its two main sponsors, Tehran and Washington.

Diplomats at the United Nations said experts were expected in the kingdom to lead an international inquiry.

Pompeo met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah to discuss a response to the strike, which took out six percent of global supplies.

Meanwhile, the Huthis threatened to hit “dozens of targets” in the United Arab Emirates, part of a Saudi-led coalition against the rebels.

‘We don’t want war’

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the administration has concluded the attack involved cruise missiles from Iran, and said evidence would be presented at the UN General Assembly next week.

Vice President Mike Pence reiterated President Donald Trump’s comments that “we don’t want war with anybody, but the United States is prepared.”

Trump, who has already re-imposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy, promised on Wednesday to “substantially increase” the measures, winning quick praise from Riyadh.

He said details would be given within 48 hours.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, himself under US sanctions since July 31, described the measures as “illegal” and “inhuman”.

Trump’s move was an “admission that (the) US is DELIBERATELY targeting ordinary citizens,” he said on Twitter.

The apparent hardening of the US position came as Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out negotiations with Washington “at any level”.

That appeared to nix hopes for a dramatic meeting between Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations next week.

Late Wednesday, the United States still had not issued Rouhani and his delegation with visas to attend the meeting in New York, Iranian state media said.

Maliki said Saturday’s attack did not originate from Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is locked in a prolonged conflict with the Huthis, “despite Iran’s efforts to make it appear so”.

He said the strike was beyond the capabilities of the militia — who have however mounted dozens of smaller attacks on Saudi territory.

“The precision impact of the cruise missile” indicated advanced capabilities beyond those of the Huthis, he added.

Oil prices rocked

Observers say the Saudi experience in Yemen, where despite their vast firepower they have failed to subdue the ragtag but highly motivated militia, has made Riyadh circumspect about wading into another conflict.

“I certainly hope we’re not” going to have a war, Riyadh’s ambassador to London Prince Khalid bin Bandar told the BBC.

“We are trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.”

Iran has backed Huthi claims of being behind the attack, and Rouhani said Wednesday it was a rebel “warning” about a possible wider war in response to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.

State media said Tehran had written to Washington through the Swiss embassy on Monday, denying any role in attacks on Saudi installations and warning it would respond to any action against it.

Trump’s administration is considering responses including a cyber attack or a physical strike on Iranian oil infrastructure or its Revolutionary Guards, NBC News reported, citing unnamed US officials.

Oil prices have see-sawed since the attacks, with record gains Monday followed by a tumble Tuesday as the Saudi assurances on supplies soothed the markets.

Trump Says Almost Sure Iran Behind Saudi Attacks

US President Donald Trump

 

US President Donald Trump declared Monday that Tehran was likely behind strikes on Saudi oil facilities, but that he wanted to be sure and he hoped to “avoid” war.

“It is certainly looking that way at this moment,” he told reporters when asked if he believes Iran carried out the attack.

Trump said “we pretty much already know” but that Washington still wanted more proof. “We want to find definitively who did this.”

“With all that being said, we’d certainly like to avoid” war, he said. “I don’t want war with anybody but we’re prepared more than anybody.”

 

Weapons Used In Saudi Attacks ‘Came From Iran’ – Coalition

 

The weapons used to strike Saudi oil facilities were Iranian-made, the Riyadh-led coalition said Monday, heightening fears of regional conflict after the US hinted at a military response to the assault.

The weekend strikes on Abqaiq –- the world’s largest oil processing facility –- and the Khurais oil field in eastern Saudi Arabia have roiled global energy markets with prices spiking Monday to record highs.

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Huthi rebels claimed responsibility for the strikes but Washington has squarely blamed Iran, with President Donald Trump saying the US is “locked and loaded” to respond.

Saudi’s energy infrastructure has been hit before, but this strike was of a different order, abruptly halting 5.7 million Barrels Per Day (BPD) or about six per cent of the world’s oil supply.

The Saudi-led coalition, which is bogged down in a five-year war in neighbouring Yemen, reiterated the assessment that the Huthis were not behind it, pointing the finger at Iran for providing the weapons.

Russia urged “all countries to avoid hasty steps or conclusions that could exacerbate the situation” while the European Union stressed all sides should show “maximum restraint”.

China also called on the US and Iran to “exercise restraint… in the absence of a conclusive investigation or verdict.”

“All indications are that weapons used in both attacks came from Iran,” coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told reporters in Riyadh, adding they were now probing “from where they were fired”.

“This strike didn’t come from Yemen territory as the Huthi militia are pretending,” Maliki said, adding an investigation had been opened.

He labelled the Huthis “a tool in the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the terrorist regime of Iran”.

The rebels said they fired 10 drones at the Saudi infrastructure, but the New York Times reported that US officials had satellite images showing the attacks — possibly with drones and cruise missiles — had come from the north or northwest.

That indicated they were sourced in the northern Persian Gulf, Iran or Iraq, rather than Yemen.

‘Unprecedented Attack’

The assault on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, which engulfed the facilities in flames, has been condemned by Washington as an “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply”.

Oil prices saw their biggest daily gain since the 1991 Gulf War on Monday after the attacks halved output in the world’s top crude exporter, fuelling fresh geopolitical and growth fears.

Europe’s benchmark Brent crude surged by 20 percent and US counterpart WTI by 15 per cent as commodities trading got underway.

Both contracts later came off their peaks, but were still up more than 10 percent on the day by the mid-afternoon in Europe.

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry insisted world oil markets still had sizeable reserves saying the market has “a fairly substantial amount of oil out there available”.

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman on Sunday said the kingdom would use its vast inventories to partially compensate for the lost production, and the US also authorised the release of its reserves.

“Growing tensions in the Middle East are another headwind for the global economy in already uncertain times, and a full-blown conflict could trigger another leg in the global downturn,” said Jennifer McKeown, head of Global Economics at Capital Economics.

With the Huthis threatening further attacks, analyst Oanda senior market analyst Craig Erlam noted Saturday’s events had “highlighted the vulnerability of security at these facilities to drone attacks”.

The kingdom also has a spare capacity of around two million BPD that it can draw on at times of crisis.

But a prolonged production delay could potentially see prices climb to “triple digits”, warned Saudi economic consultant Sulaiman al-Assaf.

IPO in Trouble?

The attack is a major test for Saudi Arabia as it could dampen investor confidence in Aramco’s upcoming two-stage initial public offering (IPO), a mammoth listing that the government hopes will generate up to $100 billion.

Saudi authorities are considering whether to delay an IPO for the oil giant, people with knowledge of the matter said.

“They’re in the process of assessing the damage. It’s a possibility but it’s still very early,” said one of the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The IPO, earlier scheduled for 2018, has already been mired in delays as it reportedly struggled to reach a $2 trillion valuation desired by Saudi rulers.

Saudi authorities have sought to calm jittery markets, with the Energy Intelligence specialist newsletter citing industry sources as saying Aramco was “close to restoring as much as 40 percent” of the lost production, or about 2.3 million barrels per day (BPD).

The Wall Street Journal cited people familiar with the damage estimates as saying the targeted facilities would take weeks to return to full production capacity.

The real extent of the damage at the facilities, however, remains unclear.

All eyes are on official word from the Saudis on the situation, which could offer reassurance to world markets.

EU Urges ‘Maximum Restraint’ Over Attacks On Saudi Oil Facilities

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union on Monday stressed its call for “maximum restraint” following weekend attacks on key Saudi oil facilities that have triggered bellicose words from the US, which blamed Iran.

EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told journalists: “We see them (the attacks) as a real threat to regional security, and at a time that tensions in the region are running very high this attack undermines ongoing work at de-escalation and dialogue.”

Trump Condemns Drone Attacks In Call With Saudi Crown Prince

Trump To Hit China With $300bn Punitive Tariffs In Goods

 

US President Donald Trump on Saturday condemned drone attacks at two Saudi Aramco oil facilities that reportedly disrupted production and marked a new escalation in regional tensions with Iran.

“The United States strongly condemns today’s attack on critical energy infrastructure. Violent actions against civilian areas and infrastructure vital to the global economy only deepen conflict and mistrust,” the White House said in a statement following a phone call between Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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Trump offered Prince Mohammed “his support for Saudi Arabia’s self-defense,” the White House said, following an earlier statement from Riyadh saying the crown prince told Trump the kingdom was “”willing and able” to respond to the attacks blamed on Yemeni rebels.

“The United States Government is monitoring the situation and remains committed to ensuring global oil markets are stable and well supplied,” the US statement said.

 

UN Concerned About Rising US-Iran Tensions

 

 

The United Nations voiced concern on Monday about increasingly bellicose rhetoric between the United States and Iran and called on them to dial down their remarks.

The appeal came after President Donald Trump on Sunday warned that any attack from Iran would be met with a devastating US response that would mean “the official end of Iran.”

“We are concerned about the rising rhetoric,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who cited the firing of a rocket on Sunday, which struck a Baghdad area that houses foreign embassies including that of the US, as being “also a concern.”

“We would ask all parties to lower the rhetoric and lower the threshold of action as well,” said the spokesman.

UN officials are holding contacts with the US and Iran at various levels to try to calm the situation, said Dujarric, but he did not provide details of those talks.

Relations between Washington and Tehran plummeted a year ago when Trump pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and imposed tough sanctions.

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Tensions have risen this month after Washington announced more economic measures against Tehran, then deployed a carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Gulf over alleged Iranian “threats.”

The Trump administration last week ordered non-essential diplomatic staff out of Iraq, citing the danger posed by Iranian-backed Iraqi armed groups.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Trump’s tweet on Monday, describing it as “genocidal taunts” and adding: “Never threaten an Iranian. Try respect — it works!”

Iranian Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi appealed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council to take steps to prevent the crisis from spiralling out of control.

“Inaction – a lose-lose approach – is not an option and can lead to a disaster that must be avoided,” wrote the ambassador in a letter sent on Friday.

The Security Council has not discussed the rising tensions even though its purpose is to address threats to international peace and security.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Russia may decide “at a certain point” to raise US-Iran tensions at the council “because the situation is very worrisome.”

“The language is bellicose, especially on this side of the Atlantic Ocean,” Nebenzia told reporters.

The Russian ambassador renewed a call for the creation of a “security architecture” for the Gulf region to allow for talks on regional issues.

AFP

Saudi Faces Rising Criticism After Mass Execution

Medina, Qatif, Saudi Arabia

 

Saudi Arabia faced worldwide criticism Wednesday for its mass execution of a group made up mostly of people from the kingdom’s Shiite Muslim minority, some of whom the UN said were minors when charged.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned Riyadh’s Tuesday execution of 37 Saudi nationals, saying “it was particularly abhorrent that at least three of those killed were minors at the time of their sentencing”.

The EU echoed her censure, calling the execution of people charged as minors a “serious violation”.

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Spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the fact that the majority of those executed were Shiites had “the potential to fuel sectarian tensions”.

They were put to death after being convicted of terrorism, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, in the largest mass execution in the country for more than three years.

At least 33 of those executed belonged to Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority, according to Human Rights Watch.

The rights group said the convictions were based on “unfair” mass trials and on confessions allegedly extracted through torture.

The Sunni-dominated kingdom’s interior ministry said some of those executed were accused of “inciting sectarian strife”, a charge often used in Saudi Arabia against Shiite activists.

One person was crucified after being killed, SPA reported, a measure reserved for particularly serious crimes in the ultra-conservative oil-rich kingdom, where executions are usually carried out by beheading.

 ‘Tool to crush dissent’ 

“Saudi authorities will inevitably characterise those executed as terrorists… but the reality is that Saudi courts are largely devoid of any due process, and many of those executed were condemned based solely on confessions they credibly say were coerced,” said HRW’s deputy Middle East director Michael Page.

“Executing prisoners en masse shows that the current Saudi leadership has little interest in improving the country’s dismal human rights record.”

Rights group Amnesty International said most of those executed were “convicted after sham trials” based on “confessions extracted through torture”.

The executions were “yet another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent” from within the Shiite minority, it added in a statement.

The rights watchdog said 11 of those executed were convicted of spying for Iran, while at least 14 others were sentenced in connection with anti-government protests in the Eastern Province between 2011 and 2012.

Among those executed was Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, who was only 16 at the time of his arrest, Amnesty said.

‘Not a whisper’ from the US 

The mass execution is the largest since January 2016, when Saudi Arabia executed a group of 47 people convicted of “terrorism”, including prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

The cleric’s execution prompted a furious reaction from Tehran.

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

Iran’s top diplomat Wednesday slammed the silence of US President Donald Trump’s administration on the executions.

“After a wink at the dismembering of a journalist, not a whisper from the Trump administration when Saudi Arabia beheads 37 men in one day — even crucifying one two days after Easter,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.

He was referring to the murder of prominent Saudi journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi last year in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hezbollah, a key ally of Tehran, accused the United States of being “a key partner” in Saudi Arabia’s “heinous crimes”.

“Hezbollah strongly condemns the heinous crime committed by the criminal Saudi regime against dozens of innocent civilians, whose only fault was to demand freedom and freedom of expression,” Hezbollah said in a statement.

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

Last year, Saudi Arabia carried out 149 death sentences, making it one of the world’s top three executioners along with China and Iran, according to Amnesty.

The Eastern Province — home to the bulk of the country’s Shiite minority — 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 government.

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

AFP

Four Killed As Gunmen Attack Saudi Security Forces

Medina, Qatif, Saudi Arabia

 

Four men were killed Sunday as they attacked a Saudi security services base in a town north of Riyadh, pro-government media reported.

The attack targeted state security forces in the town of Zulfi, 260 kilometres (160 miles) north of the capital, London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat reported.

It said the attackers had rammed a vehicle into a security barrier around the base in an attempt to gain entry.

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Two gunmen then stepped out of the vehicle and opened fire, sparking a gun battle with police, who killed them, the paper reported. A third attempted to flee but was also gunned down, while a fourth died as he tried to set off an explosive belt.

It did not mention any casualties among security personnel.

The Saudi-owned satellite channel Al-Arabiya also reported four people died during an attack, but did not give details.

On April 7, two men armed with explosives were killed and two others arrested as they attacked a security checkpoint in a predominantly Shiite region in eastern Saudi Arabia, which has seen years of demonstrations against the Sunni royal family.

Sunday’s attack took place in a majority Sunni region.

An estimated 10-15 per cent of the ultra-conservative kingdom’s 32 million population is Shiite, although no official figures exist.

AFP

US Citizens Among Eight Arrested In Saudi Crackdown

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman/ AFP

 

Saudi Arabia has arrested at least eight writers and bloggers, including two US citizens, in an apparent crackdown on supporters of detained women activists whose trial has drawn global censure, campaigners said Friday.

News of the arrests came the morning after US lawmakers voted to end military support for a Saudi-led war in neighbouring Yemen, which has triggered what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

It also marks the first major crackdown since the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, which sparked unprecedented international scrutiny of the kingdom’s human rights record.

Campaigners identified the US-Saudi dual nationals as writer and doctor Bader al-Ibrahim and Salah al-Haidar, the son of Aziza al-Yousef — a high-profile activist who was temporarily released last week but remains on trial along with other women campaigners.

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The latest round up started on Thursday, a day after the 11 women — some of whom accused interrogators of torture and sexual abuse in detention — returned to court to face charges that include contact with foreign media, diplomats and human rights groups.

But one of them, university lecturer Anas al-Mazrou, was detained last month after he expressed solidarity with the detained women during a panel discussion at the Riyadh book fair, multiple activists said.

London-based rights group ALQST said all eight were “writers and social media bloggers previously engaged in public discourse on reforms” and that the crackdown was linked to their support of women activists on trial.

Prisoners of Conscience, a Saudi group that tracks political prisoners, put the number of people arrested at 10.

“Saudi authorities seem to be hellbent on silencing anyone who dares to speak up or even voice their opinions privately and publicly,” Amnesty International’s Middle East campaigns director Samah Hadid told AFP.

“This goes beyond just attacking activists and now seems to target different segments of society. This is a dangerous pattern.”

 Pressure to stay silent 

There was no immediate comment from Saudi authorities or the US embassy in Riyadh.

“What is disturbing about new Saudi arrests is that waves of arrests keep moving from most-known to successively lesser knowns,” Saudi-American activist Nora Abdulkarim said on Twitter.

“Another confusing aspect is timing, leaves one asking: ‘why now?'”

Riyadh has faced pressure from major Western powers to release the women on trial, most of whom were detained last summer in a wide-ranging crackdown against activists just before the historic lifting of a decades-long ban on female motorists.

Three of them — activist Aziza al-Yousef, blogger Eman al-Nafjan and preacher Rokaya al-Mohareb — were granted temporary release last week.

Before their provisional release, the three freed women and their bail guarantors were made to sign a pledge that they will stay away from the media, according to multiple people with access to the trial.

The siblings of one of the prominent detainees, activist Loujain al-Hathloul, this week said they were being pressured by people close to the Saudi state to stay silent over her treatment in detention.

People close to the Saudi establishment have warned that public criticism by family members could prolong their detention.

“A reminder: we are not going to stay silent,” Loujain’s sister Alia al-Hathloul tweeted on Friday.

At an emotionally charged hearing last week, some women broke down as they accused interrogators of subjecting them to electric shocks, flogging and groping in detention, two people with access to the trial told AFP.

A Saudi prosecutor roundly rejected the accusations in the latest court hearing on Wednesday, witnesses said, reiterating the government’s stance.

The next hearing in the trial, which foreign media and diplomats are barred from attending, is scheduled for April 17, activists say.

AFP

Saudi Faces Criticism At UN Over Khashoggi Murder

Khashoggi Killers 'Will Be Prosecuted In Saudi Arabia' - Govt
Murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Credit: MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH / AFPkhashoggi

 

Thirty-six nations condemned Saudi Arabia on Thursday over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a rare censure of the oil-rich kingdom at the UN Human Rights Council. 

A statement read by Iceland on behalf of a group of states expressed “significant concerns” about reported abuses in Saudi Arabia and demanded justice following Khashoggi’s killing.

“Investigations into the killing must be prompt, effective and thorough, independent and impartial, and transparent. Those responsible must be held to account,” added the statement read by Iceland’s UN ambassador Harald Aspelund.

It called on Saudi authorities “to disclose all information available” about its own investigation while cooperating with separate UN inquiries into Khashoggi’s death.

The statement was backed by EU states along with Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

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Human Rights Watch said the statement was “the first-ever collective action” at the council on rights in Saudi Arabia, which had successfully evaded criticism at the UN body.

HRW’s Geneva director John Fisher called it “a landmark step toward justice” and urged “more scrutiny” of the country.

Responding to the statement, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva condemned the use of “joint statements for political causes.”

“Interference in domestic affairs under the guise of defending human rights is in fact an attack on our sovereignty,” ambassador Abdulaziz Alwasil said.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

Saudi Arabia initially said it had no knowledge of his fate.

It has since blamed rogue agents for Khashoggi’s death and the kingdom’s public prosecutor has charged 11 people over his murder.

The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, is conducting an inquiry into the killing.

But Callamard is an independent human rights expert who does not speak for the UN and calls have mounted for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to push for a full UN-backed probe.

AFP

Saudi Executes Bangladeshi For Diplomat’s Murder

Medina, Qatif, Saudi Arabia

 

 

A Bangladeshi man was hanged in a jail outside Dhaka over the murder of a Saudi diplomat in 2012, an official said Monday.

Khalaf Al Ali, 45, who worked in the consular section of the Saudi Arabian embassy, was shot in the capital’s diplomatic zone in front of his rented apartment. He later died in hospital.

Police at that time said 30-year-old Saiful Islam, who was hanged on Sunday, led the gang who tried to rob the diplomat.

“He was executed in accordance with a court order,” prison official Shahjahan Ahmed told AFP.

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The Supreme Court in August upheld Islam’s death sentence. He was originally sentenced to death in 2013 by a trial court which described him as the main perpetrator of the killing.

More than two million Bangladeshis are working in Saudi Arabia, which is a key ally of the South Asian country and a major donor.

Bangladesh regularly executes death row convicts despite criticism from human rights groups.

In recent years at least five top Islamist leaders, who have been convicted of war crimes, and nearly a dozen Islamist extremists were executed — all by hanging — in high-security prisons.

AFP