Saudi Embassy Trial Begins for 21 Suspects

Saudi Embassy Trial Begins for 21 SuspectsSaudi Embassy Trial Begins for 21 Suspects

Iran's judiciary on Monday held the first court hearing for 21 individuals charged with involvement in the storming of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

Enraged by the Saudi execution of a prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, furious Iranian protesters attacked Saudi missions in Tehran and Mashhad in early January, leading Riyadh to sever diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic.

Shortly afterward, Saudi allies rallied behind the kingdom one after another to either cut or downgrade relations with Iran.

President Hassan Rouhani was quick to condemn the attacks as "a blatant breach of Islamic values" and "a blow to the credibility and reputation of the Islamic Republic."

He tasked the Interior Ministry with investigating the event in cooperation with the judiciary to identify the attackers and bring them to justice.

Rouhani later cautioned the judiciary that the Iranian people are watching closely and expect a fair trial. Some lawmakers have called for severe court sentences to create an effective deterrent.

Judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, had previously said early investigations led to the arrest of 121 suspects and the summoning of 24 others. Some were released on bail, others have been held in custody and the rest were found innocent.

Ultimately 48 were indicted, of whom three or four were clerics and must be tried separately in a Special Clerical Court, ISNA quoted Ejei as saying.

***Roots of Troubled Ties  

Relations between the Islamic Republic and the Saudi kingdom have been strained since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, which toppled the monarchy.

Saudi rulers bankrolled the bloody Iraqi invasion of Iran one year later and extended full-fledged political and diplomatic backing to the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, during the 1980-88 Iraq-imposed war.

The Saudi-backed military aggression killed a million people on both sides and devastated Iran's economy.

However, relations became particularly tense after the Arab Spring rocked the region in 2011, as the two regional powers supported opposing sides in conflicts in Syria and Bahrain, among others.

But the real problem emerged after Salman bin Abdulaziz ascended to the throne in January 2015, who started a military campaign in Yemen. He adopted a more aggressive policy against Iran to isolate what he saw as a major rival emerging from years of international sanctions over its nuclear activities.

The Mina incident outside the holy city of Mecca last year, in which hundreds of Iranians were killed, the sexual harassment of two Iranian pilgrims at Jeddah airport by Saudi security officers in April 2015 and Riyadh's undisputed role in the plunge in global oil prices in the last two years are other reasons behind the escalation of tensions.