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Iranian authorities waited at least 12 hours before sending reinforcements to help defend a Saudi Arabian embassy compound that had come under attack by protestors, according to a timeline of the incident released by the Saudi government.
Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday that it was severing diplomatic ties with the Iranian government after protestors stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, setting fire to many portions of the building.
Iranian protestors attacked the Saudi compound late Saturday following the execution in Riyadh of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr.
Saudi officials in Tehran say they became aware early Saturday morning of threats by Iranians “to kill its personnel” at the Tehran embassy, the Saudi government’s news agency stated in a release describing the attack.
At around 2:20 in the afternoon on that same day, “crowds of mobs started to gather in front of the embassy, triggering the [Saudi] Charge d'Affaires to immediately notify the Iranian foreign ministry of the development [and] demanding protection of the embassy,” the government said.
However, these pleas for help were issued “in vain,” the government claimed.
By 9:30 in the evening the protests began to spiral out of control, with crowds of Iranian protestors “hurling stones and incendiary bombs at the building,” according to the timeline. Iran still did not send reinforcements to protect the compound.
By 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, Saudi officials renewed the calls to Iran for support as protestors continued to set fire to the building.
“His calls went unanswered,” according to the Saudi government.
Iran did not send support until later in the morning on Sunday.
The incident has sparked a diplomatic row between the countries, with the Saudis expelling Iranian diplomats from the country and cutting off financial ties with the Islamic Republic.
David Weinberg, a regional expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that Saudi Arabia might have miscalculated the fallout from Nimr’s execution.
“They overplayed their hand and seem to be surprised at the intensity of the response Nimr’s death elicited,” Weinberg said. “Which is not surprising given how tone deaf Saudi rulers have historically been to the concerns of Shi’ite Muslims both within and beyond Saudi borders.”
However, the Saudi government’s timeline indicates that “Iran negligently allowed angry mobs to assault Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic facilities and had plenty of warning time in which to prevent an attack.”
Meanwhile, the Saudi embassy in Baghdad was reportedly struck by a rocket on Monday.