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Iran upholds sentences for Saudi Embassy attackers

As Iran sent pilgrims for hajj after skipping the pilgrimage to Mecca in 2016, an Iranian court upheld the sentences of 10 individuals for an attack on the Saudi Embassy.
Smoke rises from Saudi Arabia's embassy during a demonstration in Tehran January 2, 2016. Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran early on Sunday morning as Shi'ite Muslim Iran reacted with fury to Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent Shi'ite cleric. REUTERS/TIMA/Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKE

Ten individuals involved in the attack on the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran in January 2016 had their prison sentences upheld by an appeals court, according to the lawyer of one of the defendants. Mohammad Narimani said that five individuals were sentenced to six months in prison and five other individuals were sentenced to three months in prison. In the original sentencing, 13 individuals received a suspended sentence; a number of others were acquitted.

In response to the execution of Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, protesters who had gathered at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran and at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Mashhad eventually stormed the buildings and destroyed property. Iran arrested approximately a hundred individuals after the attack. One of the main organizers of the attack is believed to be a cleric who was linked to conservative Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf.

Saudi Arabia cut all diplomatic relations with Iran after the attacks on the embassy. This crisis, however, was preceded by another crisis between the two countries in September 2015 when 474 Iranians were killed in a stampede in Mina while on hajj. Iran accused Saudi Arabia of incompetence and called for Mecca to be under international supervision. Saudi Arabia accused Iran of politicizing the event. Iran skipped the 2016 pilgrimage after the two countries were unable to agree on provisions to guarantee safety for Iranians.

But this year, after intense negotiations, Iranian pilgrims were sent to hajj. According to Iranian media, the first group of Iranian pilgrims in Medina for this year’s hajj were greeted by Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister for hajj.

During a speech to hajj officials July 30, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei discussed Saudi-Iran tensions related to hajj. “We will never forget the tragedy of 2015 hajj,” Khamenei said. He added that the “safety and honor” of all pilgrims is one of the demands of the Islamic Republic. Khamenei also addressed current political events and urged Muslims on hajj to take a united stand against Israel, in light of the Al-Aqsa protests, and the United States. Saudi Arabia has objected to any politicization of hajj.

At the event for Khamenei’s speech, Ghazi Askar, Khamenei’s representative of hajj affairs, said that Iran sent pilgrims this year because Saudi Arabia accepted Iran’s conditions, especially with respect to the safety of Iranian pilgrims. Iran had previously accused Saudi Arabia of banning Iranian planes from landing in their country and also requiring Iranians to travel to a third country to obtain an entry visa. Other media have reported that Iran objected to bracelets for tracking. The decision to send pilgrims this year was reportedly made by the Supreme National Security Council, which is headed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

While the attendance of Iranian pilgrims is a positive sign, there are still many differences between the two countries. Iran claims that Saudi Arabia has still not apologized for the Mina stampede. The two countries are still vying for regional dominance, and there continues to be a number of tension points in the region.

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