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Saudi Arabia sentences 'Yemeni AQAP accomplice' to death over Spanish theatre stabbing

Four people were wounded in the November attack [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 December, 2019

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The on-stage attack is the first of its kind in the kingdom, as the once-conservative society liberalises the entertainment industry and opens itself up for tourism.
A Saudi court sentenced a Yemeni man to death on Sunday for a knife attack on a Spanish theatre group performing in the kingdom last month, state television said.

The court also sentenced an accomplice to 12 years and six month sin jail for the November 11 assault which Riyadh has linked to extremist group Al-Qaeda.

"The criminal court issues a preliminary ruling handing the death sentence to the perpetrator of the terrorist attack... in Riyadh," Al-Ekhbariya state television reported.

The assailant, identified by police as a 33-year-old Yemeni, went on a stabbing spree during a live musical in the capital's King Abdullah Park, one of the venues hosting the two-month "Riyadh Season" entertainment festival.

Four Spanish nationals were wounded during the attack, Spain's foreign ministry said last month.

While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, Al-Ekhbariya said last week the assailant took order from an Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen.

The TV channel did not offer any details on his alleged accomplice.

Saudi Arabia has lead a military coalition supporting the Yemeni government against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels since 2015, and has also been involved in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is active in Yemen, is considered by the United States as the radical group's most dangerous branch.

Capitalising on the chaos caused by the rebel Houthi capture of the Yemeni capital, AQAP used the north and centre of the country to stage a major resurgence in 2015.

Observers also point at burbling resentment among arch-conservatives in the kingdom over the multi-billion dollar entertainment push by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

The two-month Riyadh Season festival is part of a broad government push to draw tourists to the kingdom and diversify its economy away from oil.

Bin Salman, the kingdom's de facto ruler, has pursued social reforms that mark the biggest cultural shakeup in the kingdom's modern history, allowing mixed-gender concerts and the reopening of cinemas, as well as loosening restrictions on women as part of the Saudi male guardianship system.

Although the reforms are popular among Saudi Arabia's mainly young population, they risk angering religious hardliners in the deeply conservative nation.

Critics abroad also say measures to open up the kingdom for tourism, such as loosening social restrictions and hosting lavish entertainment festivals attended by social media influencers and celebrities, are an attempt to distract potential visitors from continuing human rights abuses.

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