DUBAI, April 6 (Reuters) - An Iranian cleric accused Saudi Arabia on Friday of giving refuge to terrorists and committing crimes in Arab states including Bahrain and Syria, the Iranian Students’ News Agency ISNA reported.
Relations between Gulf heavyweight Saudi Arabia and Iran have been strained over Iran’s nuclear programme and what Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf Arab states say is Iran’s meddling in Arab affairs.
Tehran denies the charge and has condemned what it calls foreign interference in the affairs of its closest Arab ally, Syria, and Saudi Arabia’s deployment of foreign troops in Bahrain last year.
“The Saudi government has become the centre of sedition in the region and a safe haven for terrorists such as (Tunisia’s former president Zine al-Abidine) Ben Ali and (Iraq’s fugitive Vice President) Tareq al-Hashemi,” hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami said during a sermon at Friday prayers.
“They are also committing crimes in Bahrain and taking seditionist acts in Syria ... I warn them that if they do not stop such actions, they will be burned with the fire they have created themselves,” Khatami said, according to ISNA.
Shi‘ite Muslim Iran backed popular uprisings which have removed leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen but has steadfastly supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi‘ite Islam.
Backed by Western countries, Riyadh has spearheaded Arab efforts to counter Assad’s suppression of a year-old uprising and to demand that he step down.
In October, the United States said it had uncovered an Iranian-backed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington. Iran denied any involvement.
Riyadh suspects Tehran of backing unrest led by neighbouring Bahrain’s Shi‘ite majority against the island state’s Sunni monarchy, supporting Shi‘ite rebels in northern Yemen and fomenting unrest among Saudi Arabia’s own Shi‘ite minority.
Saudi Arabia has indicated it could increase oil output to make up for Iranian crude in the event of a European Union embargo against Iranian oil, a stance criticised by Iranian officials. (Editing by Andrew Roche)