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Saudi Arabia carries out largest mass execution in its history as rights groups issue condemnation

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THOMAS KIENZLE/AFP via Getty Images

Saudi Arabia on Saturday carried out the largest mass execution in its history, ending the lives of 81 people in one day for crimes ranging from murder to membership in militant groups, the Associated Press reported.

The massive figure surpassed the previous high of 63 carried out in January 1980 when the kingdom executed militants convicted of seizing the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

It was not immediately clear why the kingdom, which has in recent years has vowed to overhaul its archaic justice system, put the individuals to death in such a fashion.

In a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency, the Saudi Ministry of Interior said the executed individuals "were convicted of various crimes including murdering innocent men, women, and children." It did not say how the individuals were executed.

"Crimes committed by these individuals also include pledging allegiance to foreign terrorist organizations, such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Houthis, targeting residents in the Kingdom and traveling to regional conflict zones to join terrorist organizations," the statement continued. "They also include convictions for targeting government personnel and vital economic sites, the killing of law enforcement officers and maiming their bodies, and planting land mines to target police vehicles. Moreover, the convictions include crimes of kidnapping, torture, rape, smuggling arms and bombs into the Kingdom."

The ministry said the executed individuals were arrested and tried in courts through trials overseen by judges and were afforded the full rights guaranteed under Saudi law.

But ultimately, the courts found the accused guilty of "committing multiple heinous crimes that left a large number of civilians and law enforcement officers dead," according to the ministry.

The New York Times reported that those put to death were predominantly Saudi but included seven Yemenis and one Syrian.

The paper added that rights groups around the world quickly condemned the executions, arguing they were contrary to progressive claims made in recent years by the kingdom's de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"These executions are the opposite of justice," Ali Adubusi, the director of the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, a watchdog group, reportedly said. He added that in many of the cases, the charges involved "not a drop of blood."

Adubusi’s rights group went on to tell the Times that many of the charges filed did not merit the death penalty under criteria the Saudi Arabian government has put forward, noting that some were related to participation in human rights demonstrations.

Other rights groups reportedly claimed that the executions included people from Saudi Arabia’s Shiite Muslim minority, a frequent target of the government.

"The world should know by now that when Mohammed bin Salman promises reform, bloodshed is bound to follow," said Soraya Bauwens, the deputy director of Reprieve, a London-based advocacy group, the AP noted.

In its statement, the ministry declared, "The Kingdom will continue to take a strict and unwavering stance against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten the stability of the entire world."

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