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Chronology for Shi'is in Saudi Arabia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Shi'is in Saudi Arabia, 2004, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Date(s) Item
Aug 2, 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait. Soon after, the Organization for Islamic Revolution changes its name to The Reform Movement.
Aug 29, 1990 For the first time since Iran's 1979 revolution, many Shi'is volunteered to join the Saudi army and civil defense forces in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Sep 11, 1990 Sheikh Hassan Saffar, head of The Organization for Islamic Revolution / The Reform Movement, ordered its supporters to rally behind the Saudi government to fight Iraq.
Jan 1991 The first edition of the Reform Movement's monthly Arabic language periodical Al-Jazira al-Arabia (The Arabian Peninsula) was published in London. It identified itself as "a political weekly concerned with the affairs of the Arabian Peninsula" and hoped that the Gulf crisis will eventually help bring change to the region as well as enhanced civil liberties and freedom of expression.
Jan 4, 1991 A pamphlet, believed to be the work of the Saudi military police, described Dr. Khalia al-Abuyaha, the husband of a Saudi woman's rights activist, as a "communist and a Shi'i." This was clearly intended as an insult.
Jan 15, 1991 The Saudi regime distributed gas masks to its citizens in anticipation of Iraqi poison gas attacks, except to those living in Shi'i areas.
Jan 28, 1991 Shi'is interviewed by western reporters refused to give their family names because they felt afraid to speak out due to persecution by Saudi authorities.
Apr 1991 Many of the 17,000 Iraqi refugees in Saudi Arabia were Shi'i.
Feb 16, 1992 Iraqi Shi'i refugees in Saudi Arabia were harassed by the Saudi police. Accusations of sexual harassment by refugee camp guards were also made.
Mar 1, 1992 King Fahd announced a program for reforming the Saudi government. The country's Shi'i population did not seem satisfied that these reforms, including the assurance of the sanctity of private homes, would spare them from violence by Sunni zealots.
Mar 7, 1992 A report by the Minnesota Lawyers' International Human Rights Committee said that the Shi'i in Saudi Arabia were subject to arbitrary arrests, widespread torture of detainees, coerced confessions, lack of defense counsel, closed trials and judges subject to the will of royalty. This was part of a campaign of harassment of the Shi'i minority which also included employment discrimination, travel restrictions, harassment of students studying abroad and the destruction of Shi'i religious buildings.
Apr 6, 1992 A Reform Movement newsletter carried a report of tension between Wahhabis (Sunnis) and Shi'is in the Eastern province.
Jul 13, 1992 There was tension among the Shi'i in the Eastern province following the dismissal of Shi'i employees from SABIC and other companies in recent months.
Sep 3, 1992 Saudi Arabia beheaded a Shi'i imprisoned since 1988 for "insulting God, the holy Koran and Mohammed the prophet" after secretive proceedings. Accusations were made of charges of physical abuse during the prisoner's incarceration. Amnesty International charged that he was really executed for standing up for the rights of Shi'is.
Feb 4, 1993 According to Intelligence Newsletter, the Iranian Minister of Pasdarans launched a program a few months ago for the training and political indoctrination of 350 to 400 Shi'i Saudis.
May 22, 1993 Thirteen people were killed in fighting between security forces and Iraqi refugees in a mostly Shi'i refugee camp.
Jun 15, 1993 According to The International Committee for Human Rights in the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia freed 6 Shi'i prisoners detained for possessing banned literature and contacts with opposition groups abroad. The group also asserted that the prisoners had been tortured during their incarceration.
Aug 1993 Of the 60 members of the new royally appointed Saudi Advisory Council, only one is a Shi'i.
Aug 7, 1993 The International Committee for Human Rights in the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula reported that 40 Shi'i political prisoners will who had been in jail for at least 5 years were to be released by the Saudi government. They had been jailed for "oppositional political activity." (It later turns out that this was part of a deal between the Saudi Government and The Reform Movement. See the rest of the chronology for the details of the agreement.)
Sep 13, 1993 Amnesty International reported that religious persecution has risen sharply in Saudi Arabia since the start of the 1990-1991 Gulf War with hundreds of Shi'i Muslims being detained, flogged and/or tortured for peacefully practicing their religion.
Oct 16, 1993 King Fahd quietly moved to meet some of the demands of The Reform Movement (see overview for details of The Reform Movement's demands) as well as to look into Shi'i complaints of religious persecution and job discrimination. The Reform Movement agreed to suspend the publication of its anti-government publications. The King also quietly met with four Shi'i activists, including two who had been living in the US, during his negotiations with the Reform Movement.
Oct 29, 1993 The Saudi Government and The Reform Movement reached an agreement by which The Reform Movement would suspend its activities abroad, including the circulation of publications that attack Saudi Arabia's human rights record. In return the government agreed to allow the organization's activists to return home, release an undetermined number of political prisoners and reissue passports among the Shi'i community. Also, the government has allowed Shi'i publications to be imported into the country and has amended its history texts to remove disparaging remarks about the Shi'i. A minority of Shi'is, including Hizbollah, opposed the agreement but it was supported by a majority of the Shi'i leaders.
Sep 20, 1994 Deutsche Presse Agentur reported that Sunni fundamentalist leader Sheikh Abdullah al-Jibrain wanted Saudi Arabia's Shi'i community to be declared a "non-Islamic confession," treated as "unbelievers" and barred from many employment opportunities.
Nov 24, 1995 A car bomb exploded at a joint Saudi-US military facility in Riyadh, killing more than 300 people. The Arab community, including members of Saudi Shi'ite community, condemned the attack. (The Jerusalem Post, November 15)
Mar 1996 Four members of Saudi Hezbollah were arrested after an unsuccessful attempt to smuggle 87 pounds of plastic explosives into Saudi Arabia from Jordan, raising concerns about Shi'ite violence. (Washington Post, November 4)
Apr 21 - 28, 1996 More than 2 million Moslems celebrated haj peacefully in Mecca. Saudi officials maintained that the pilgrims had respected a ban on any political rallies or speeches during the celebration, although Iran claimed that rallies condemning the US and Israel did occur. (Reuters)
Jun 25, 1996 A truck bomb exploded at the Khobar Towers, a residence on a US airbase in Dharan, killing 19 American servicemen and injuring 345. (AFP)
Jun 30, 1996 Reports indicate that the Saudi economy is failing as oil prices drop. A weakening economy could hit the Shi'ite community, which has never received its fair share of the country's wealth, hardest and could lead to civil unrest. (The Baltimore Sun)
Sep 5, 1996 Saudi police detained 40 Shiite Muslim suspects in connection with the June bombing near Dhahran. Many of those arrested are affiliated with the group Saudi Hezbollah. (Kaleidoscope; The New York Times, October 31)
Nov 4, 1996 Spokesmen for the Saudi Shi'ite community expressed concerns about the governments conclusion that Shi'ites were responsible for the Dhahran bombing.
Nov 10, 1996 Americans in Saudi Arabia were placed on high alert as the anniversary of the Riyadh bombing approached and Saudi officials pursued a security clampdown. (The Sunday Telegraph)
Nov 24, 1996 Reports reveal that Saudi Hezbollah chief Hussein bin Mubarak and 20 of his followers arrived in Beirut following the Saudi crackdown on the group. (The Boston Globe, November 24)
Jan 22 - 23, 1997 US Attorney General Janet Reno and US FBI director Louis Freeh note that the Saudi government has failed to turn over information vital to the Khobar Towers investigation. (New York Times, June 21, 1998Csee this edition for a full timeline of the US-Saudi investigation)
Mar 18, 1997 A Saudi Shi'ite, living in Canada, was brought into custody in Canada as a security risk due to allegations that he was involved in the June 1996 Dhahran bombing. Hani Al-Sayegh, the accused, said that he was afraid to return to Saudi Arabia because of the way Sunni officials would treat a Shi'ite prisoner. (Reuters)
Mar 27, 1997 Iran denies any ties to Al-Sayegh and the bombing of the US airbase. (AFP)
Mar 29, 1997 Hani Al-Sayegh tells Canadian officials that he fled Saudi Arabia as a result of the constant harassment, beatings, and questioning faced by he and his Shi'ite relatives at the hands of Sunni officials. (Washington Post)
Mar 31, 1997 Saudi Arabia requests the extradition of al-Sayegh, while US officials maintain that he should be sent to the USC the country where he was immediately before entering Canada.
Apr 14, 1997 Officials reveal evidence of contact before the bombing between a senior Iranian intelligence official and al-Sayegh.
Jun 17, 1997 Canada deports bombing suspect Al-Sayegh to the US. (AFP)
Jun 30, 1997 Saudi Arabia asked Lebanon and Afghanistan to extradite 12 Shiite Muslim suspects believed to have been involved in a June 1996 truck bombing. (Kaleidoscope)
Jul 30, 1997 Al-Sayegh pleads not guilty to reduced charges brought against him by the US of involvement in another, aborted terrorist plot. (AFP)
Jan 23, 1998 After failing to cooperate with US officials, American officials deport Al-Sayegh, although he remained in the custody of INS. (Washington Post)
Feb 28, 1998 The former president of Iran requested Saudi Arabia to release the Shi'ite Moslems who had been rounded up following the Dhahran bombing. (Associated Press)
May 23, 1998 An investigation by Saudi officials concluded that foreign involvement is not to blame for the June 1996 bombing in Dhahran. (Los Angeles Times)
Jun 1998 Reports reveal that US intelligence officials suspect that Saudi Sunni Osama bin Laden is responsible for the bombing of Khobar Towers. (The Times, June 12)
Aug 7, 1998 Bombs hit American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing a total of 260 people. Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi Sunni, emerges as the main suspect in the bombings.
Aug 21, 1998 The United States launched bombing attacks against Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for the embassy bombings. Bin Laden had significant links to the targets, including a pharmaceutical factory suspected of producing chemical weapons and a facility considered to be "the preeminent Sunni Moslem training facility in the world."

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