Saudi Arabia executes 81 people in one day

Saudi Arabia executed 81 people Saturday convicted of crimes ranging from killings to belonging to militant groups, the largest known mass execution carried out in the kingdom in its modern history.

The executions carried out surpassed even the toll of a January 1980 mass execution for the 63 militants convicted of seizing the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979, the worst-ever militant attack to target the kingdom and Islam's holiest site.

It wasn't clear why the kingdom choose Saturday for the executions. The number of death penalty cases being carried out had dropped during the coronavirus pandemic, though the kingdom continued to behead convicts under King Salman and his assertive son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency announced Saturday's executions, saying they included those "convicted of various crimes, including the murdering of innocent men, women and children." The kingdom also said some of those executed were members of al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and backers of Yemen's Houthi rebels.

"The accused were provided with the right to an attorney and were guaranteed their full rights under Saudi law during the judicial process, which found them guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes that left a large number of civilians and law enforcement officers dead," the Saudi Press Agency said.

In 2019, 37 people were allegedly executed on terrorism allegations.

The beheadings of the 37 individuals were authorized by King Salman through a royal decree, The Associated Press reported.

Many of those killed were Shiites, Amnesty International and Saudi dissident Ali Al-Ahmed separately claimed.

People in the executed group allegedly embraced extremist ideologies and started terrorist cells, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The body of one person killed in the executions, which took place in various parts of the country, was displayed in public, The Associated Press reported.

The AP contributed to this report.