Who was behind the attack on the Saudi embassy in Iran?

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has disputed accusations that his government was responsible for Saturday night's attacks on Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran, following the beheading of a prominent Shiite cleric by the Saudi government.

Iranian Presidency Office via AP
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, right, shakes hands with Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen while welcoming him at the start of their meeting in Tehran, Iran. Iran's president said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia cannot 'cover up' its execution of a leading Shiite cleric by severing diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic, even as the kingdom's allies began limiting their links to his country.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday Saudi Arabia could not hide its "crime" of executing a Shi'ite cleric by cutting ties with Tehran, but Iranian authorities disowned an attack on the Saudi embassy in Iran.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Sudan broke all ties with Iran and the United Arab Emirates downgraded its relations on Monday after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was stormed by protesters. Kuwait recalled its ambassador to Iran on Tuesday.

An angry mob broke into the embassy on Saturday night and started fires following protests against the kingdom's execution of cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent critic of Saudi policy, and three other Shi'ite Muslims as well as 43 Sunni al Qaeda jihadists.

"Saudi Arabia cannot hide its crime of beheading a religious leader by severing political relations with Iran," Rouhani was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA in a meeting with Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen in Tehran.

"We believe diplomacy and negotiations are the best way to solve problems between countries," he added. "Regional countries can save the region from terrorism dangers through unity."

The Iranian government has distanced itself from the attack on the Saudi embassy and even suggested foreign elements organized it.

Brigadier General Mohsen Kazemeini, the top Revolutionary Guards commander in Tehran, joined the condemnation on Tuesday.

"This was a very wrong and incorrect action and there is no way this ugly action can be justified," he said, according to the Mizan Online news agency.

The comments appeared to be the first such criticism of the embassy attack by a member of the hardline Guards, who issued a harsh statement against Saudi Arabia about the execution of al-Nimr on Saturday.

Kazemeini said the attack could not have been carried out by "devout forces" and that it was "completely organized."

An Iranian government spokesman earlier called the attack "suspicious" and "in favor of Saudi Arabia's policies."

"A few people - with whom it's not clear which country's interests they are serving - took advantage of people's feelings," ILNA news agency quoted Mohammad Bagher Nobakht as saying.

Iran's Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi was quoted by Iranian media as saying "the latest action against the Saudi embassy could be planned and supported by infiltrated agents."

President Hassan Rouhani has referred to the embassy attackers as extremists and said Iran should put an end to attacking embassies once and forever.

Iran celebrates the anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran every year and refers to it as the Second Revolution. Since then, Iranians have attacked several embassies in Tehran including those of Kuwait in 1987, Saudi Arabia in 1988, Denmark in 2006 and Britain in 2011.

(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut; editing by Andrew Roche)

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