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Iranian protesters set fire Saudi embassy in Tehran

Smoke rises as Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Protesters upset over the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia set fires to the Saudi embassy in Tehran. (Mohammadreza Nadimi/ISNA via AP)

Smoke rises as Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Protesters upset over the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia set fires to the Saudi embassy in Tehran. (Mohammadreza Nadimi/ISNA via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran—Protesters in Iran, angered by the execution by Saudi Arabia of a prominent Shiite cleric, broke into the Saudi embassy in Tehran early Sunday, setting fires and throwing papers from the roof, Iranian media reported.

The semiofficial ISNA news agency said the country’s top police official, Gen. Hossein Sajedinia, rushed to the scene and police worked to disperse the crowd outraged by the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Shiite leaders in Iran and elsewhere across the Middle East swiftly condemned Riyadh and warned of a sectarian backlash.

Saudi Arabia’s execution Saturday of 47 prisoners, which also included al-Qaida detainees, threatened to further enflame Sunni-Shiite tensions in a regional struggle playing out between the Sunni kingdom and its foe Iran, a predominantly Shiite nation.

While Saudi Arabia insisted the executions were part of a justified war on terrorism, Iranian politicians warned that the Saudi monarchy would pay a heavy price for the death of al-Nimr.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Saudi envoy in Tehran to protest, while the Saudi Foreign Ministry later said it had summoned Iran’s envoy to the kingdom to protest the critical Iranian reaction to the sheikh’s execution, saying it represented “blatant interference” in its internal affairs.

In Tehran, the crowd gathered outside the Saudi embassy and chanted anti-Saudi slogans. Some protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the embassy, setting off a fire in part of the building, Sajedinia told the semi-official Tasnim news agency.