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Saudi police kill Bahraini suspect in executed cleric's hometown

Saudi officials say security forces killed Bahraini 'terrorist' after he fired at them; activists reject claim
A 3 January protest in Awamiya after the execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr (MEE)

Black smoke from tires burnt in protest hung over the eastern Saudi hometown of a prominent executed Shia cleric on Tuesday night after security forces shot and killed a wanted Bahraini "terrorist" who fired at them, according to the interior ministry.

The interior ministry identified the dead suspect as Ali Mahmoud Ali Abdullah and said an operation to arrest him took place in Awamiya town at 4pm (1300 GMT).

The interior ministry spokesman said that when officers raided a farm in Awamiya, Abdullah "opened fire and the situation was responded to, resulting in his death. In his possession was an automatic weapon and pistol". 

Activists have rejected the ministry's account, saying that Abdullah, the nephew of one of 23 men on a wanted list following local protests after the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr last month, did not fire at the security forces.

Gunfire was still sounding in the Gulf coast community on Tuesday evening as residents set tyres on fire, a witness told AFP and videos shared with MEE revealed.

The same witness reported seeing the body of a second individual lying in the street. "People said an armoured vehicle hit him," said the witness, whose claim could not be immediately verified.

Activists separately told MEE that at least two people had been killed and more than 20 people injured, including at least five women.

In an unusual move, the interior ministry released a photo of Abdullah wearing a baseball cap sideways on his head.

"Available evidence showed he participated in committing a number of terrorist crimes, destabilising security and public order in Qatif," the spokesman said, referring to the surrounding Shia-majority region.

The town of about 30,000 has been the scene of repeated incidents since 2011.

A week of unrest including gunfire, burning tyres and explosions shook Awamiya after the execution of prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr on 2 January.

Nimr was a driving force behind protests that began in 2011 among minority Shias. Those protests later developed into a call for equality in the Sunni-dominated kingdom, where Shias complain of marginalisation.

After the protests started, police issued a list of 23 wanted people, reportedly including Abdullah's uncle, Salam al-Faraj. Many suspects on that list have already been detained or killed in shoot-outs.

Nimr and three other Shias were among 47 people found guilty of terrorism and put to death on a single day. The majority were Sunnis convicted of involvement in al-Qaeda attacks that killed Saudis and foreigners in the kingdom about 12 years ago.

A juvenile who was arrested when he was 13 and prisoners reportedly suffering from mental illness were also among those executed, MEE has reported.

Since late 2014, Saudi Shias have been targeted by suicide bombings and shootings claimed by Sunni militants of the Islamic State (IS) group, who consider them heretics. 

Saudi security forces have also been killed in attacks claimed by IS, whose leader has purportedly called Saudi rulers "apostate tyrants".