x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Saudi minister says arrested Shiite cleric is a 'dubious person'

Dissident Shiite cleric Nimr Al Nimr was shot and injured during clashes against the state with his supporters, and arrested on July 8.

RIYADH // The Saudi interior minister, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, described dissident Shiite cleric Nimr Al Nimr as a "dubious person scholarly and mentally", the Saudi Press Agency reported.

"His claims demonstrate a lack of reason," Prince Ahmed was cited as saying on Monday by the kingdom's official news service. The prince also said that the state wouldn't tolerate any threat to its security, the news service reported.

Saudi security forces arrested Mr Al Nimr in the Al Qatif area of the oil-rich Eastern Province, the Saudi Press Agency reported on July 8, citing an interior ministry spokesman. Security forces shot and injured Mr Al Nimr during clashes with his supporters in the village of Awwamiya as he tried to escape, it said.

While Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia largely escaped the unrest that spread across the Arab world last year, minority Shiite protesters have clashed with security forces in Awwamiya, Al Qatif and other eastern towns. Two Shiite men were killed in protests after Mr Al Nimr's arrest and another died about five days later during an attack on a police station in Awwamiya.

"There are groups marred with irregularities," Prince Ahmed was cited as saying by the Saudi news service. "If the danger is confined to al-Nimr, it is his own business, but if it exceeds the limits, violates others' rights or bypasses the security of the state, it should be necessary to put an end to such an unacceptable violation."

Awwamiya, a village north of Al Qatif on the Arabian Gulf, was the scene of much larger demonstrations in 2009 after police sought to arrest Mr Al Nimr, who had said in a sermon that Saudi Shiites may be able to seek a state of their own in the future.