Flames rise from Saudi Arabia's embassy during a demonstration in Tehran
Flames rise from Saudi Arabia's embassy during a demonstration in Tehran Reuters

Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday it was cutting diplomatic ties with Iran, over attacks on its embassy facilities in Iran by people protesting the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The kingdom has requested that all members of Iran’s diplomatic mission leave Saudi Arabia within 48 hours, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Riyadh.

“The Iranian regime has a long record of violating foreign diplomatic missions,” he said, adding that the Iranian government hadn’t responded to requests to protect its embassy.

Women and children in Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic missions had been evacuated on a flight Sunday night, he added.

There was no immediate response from Iranian officials, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The severing of ties is the latest escalation in a growing sectarian-tinged standoff between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia is the Persian Gulf region’s Sunni Muslim power, while Iran is predominantly Shiite.

The row began Saturday, when Saudi Arabia executed Nimr among 47 people sentenced to death.

Nimr was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in Eastern Province, where the Shiite minority of Saudi Arabia complains of marginalization.

He was arrested in 2012, with the Interior Ministry describing him as an "instigator of sedition".

The execution prompted condemnations from Iranian officials and protests across the Shiite Muslim world. In Tehran on Saturday night, demonstrators stormed the Saudi Embassy and threw firebombs at it, setting parts of it ablaze.

Earlier on Sunday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blasted Saudi Arabia over the execution, saying, “The hand of God will take vengeance against Saudi leaders.”

Khamenei told Iranian national TV that “for the unjust spilling of blood of this holy man, who suffered and was downtrodden, there will no doubt be heavenly vengeance taken upon Saudi politicians.”