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Mourners in Saudi Arabia demand 'revenge' for deadly security raids

Thousands of people attended the funerals of four men killed by security forces in the Eastern Province after a deadly raid on Awamiyah village
Women in Awamiyah protest October's death sentence against leader Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr (AFP)
Rori Donaghy

An estimated 15,000 men, women and children took to the streets of eastern Saudi Arabia on Sunday evening to attend the funeral of four people killed by security forces in the village of Awamiyah.

Funeral goers chanted “down, down al-Saud” in a reference to the ruling family and “we will protect our people by any means” while carrying photos of the dead, according to locals from the Shiite majority Eastern Province.

“People are angry. They want revenge for those killed,” Mohammed al-Saeedi, who attended the funerals on Sunday, told MEE. He said authorities had delayed the funerals by refusing to handover bodies of the dead to their families.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior claimed four “terrorists” were killed in the 20 December security operation on Awamiyah – a village of around 25,500 people. They said the slain men were responsible for the 14 December killing of a police officer in the village.

Locals told MEE at least 50 people were injured in the operation and alleged that security forces had randomly shot at homes to stop people observing their house-to-house raids. Grizzly photos alleging to show pictures of the dead have since emerged on Twitter - their bodies burnt, activists said, by stun grenades thrown by security forces. MEE could not independently verify the images. 

Ali Abdullah Abu Abdullah, 24, was one of those killed and has since been declared as responsible for the police officer murder by the authorities. 

However, human rights activists from Qatif said the government had not proven his guilt and should have arrested him. 

“The government said Abdullah killed the police officer but they didn’t provide any evidence for this,” Ali Adubaisy told MEE. “Instead of killing him they should have put him on trial and proven that he killed the officer.”

“The government want to make it look like they are fighting terrorism in Awamiyah but they are actually fighting people who want their rights and freedoms.”

A fifth person reportedly killed in the 20 December raids on Awamiyah was 17-year-old Thamer Hassan al-Rabie. He was not named by authorities in their list of dead “terrorists” but locals said he was shot and killed by security forces during the operation.

His funeral was held on 26 December and drew thousands of mourners, with Twitter users sharing photos of the teenager.

Since 2011 the oil-rich Eastern Province has been scene of sporadic protests against the government. The Shiite-majority locals – who make up 10-15 percent of Saudi Arabia’s 29 million population – allege that the government discriminate against them in employment and education among other areas.

Authorities have repeatedly denied accusations of discrimination and said they are fighting an illegal, and armed, uprising against the government.

Some protesters on Sunday fired on security forces, and threw molotov cocktails - not the first time that such tactics have been used against police. Provincial leaders have called for an end to the use of arms, but locals told MEE the latest round of violence in Awamiyah has heightened anger at these leaders, who have been accused of complicity in the attacks. 

“This is new – the anger with local leaders. People said they are facilitating the government to come and attack the villages,” an Awamiyah resident – who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons – told MEE.

“The leaders have called on us to reject using arms and attacking security forces. But the youth movement said they are only defending themselves against security forces’ attacks and do not usually target the officers.”

“Of course people will defend themselves. The government comes to kill and people here believe they have to do something to save their lives.”

In January 2012 Saudi authorities released a list of the 23 most-wanted men in relation to unrest in the Eastern Province. Two have since been killed and 14 arrested by authorities – three of who have since been released without charge. The remaining seven live in hiding.

The Awamiyah local said villagers have organised to guard the wanted men from arrest, who they believe to be legitimate anti-government activists.

“There are armed groups in Awamiyah working to protect the wanted persons and to stop any attempts by security forces to storm the town. Ali Abdullah Abu Abdullah was not killed because he murdered the police officer, they killed him due to his role in thwarting several attempts by security forces to capture wanted persons here,” he said.

The government has said “terrorism” remains a problem in Awamiyah, despite the 20 December security operation, leading activists to suggest another attack is likely. 

“We expect the government to carry out another attack in Awamiyah in the near future – there is nothing to stop them doing this,” said human rights activist Adubisy.