The executioner's toll

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While the possible fate of British nurses Deborah Parry and Lucille McLauchlan continues to make headlines, other young women have knelt before the executioner's sword in Saudi Arabia without a word of protest uttered in the West, writes Robert Fisk.

Just two months ago, a young west African woman was beheaded in public in Jeddah, while three other women - two Pakistanis and a Saudi - had their heads cut off in Saudi Arabia last year.

Zahrah Isa Ali was executed on 30 June after being found guilty at a secret trial of trying to smuggle an unspecified quantity of heroin into the kingdom. The Saudi woman beheaded a year earlier, Dhafira bin Said bin Mohamed al-Salim, had been convicted of shooting her husband. The two Pakistanis, both convicted for trying to smuggle heroin, were beheaded together in Jeddah on 26 November last year. They were executed along with three Pakistani men.

Amnesty International finds it difficult to obtain details of executions in the Arab Gulf states, but has kept a log of at least seven women beheaded or shot in the region up to 1995. They include an 18-year-old Sri Lankan girl who was shot in the United Arab Emirates for allegedly killing the baby of the family for whom she worked. She denied the charge. In the Saudi city of Dammam - where the British nurses are held - a Saudi woman and her daughter were executed together after being convicted of killing the woman's husband. Their veils were torn from their heads by their executioner before he decapitated them.