RIYADH, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia amputated the hand of a thief on Monday, carrying out a rarely implemented Islamic punishment amid warnings in the media of a rise in crime in the conservative kingdom.
The right hand of Amr Nasr, an Egyptian man, was removed in Mecca after he was found guilty of pick-pocketing inside the Grand Mosque compound, the official Saudi Press Agency.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, applies a literal reading of Islamic law, and regularly beheads those convicted of murder, rape, drugs smuggling and armed robbery.
A spokesman for New York-based Human Rights Watch said the Islamic punishment of hand amputation for theft is rarely implemented and this would be the first case in years.
Petty theft at the mosque in Mecca, which throngs with thousands of visiting pilgrims all year round, is common and pilgrims often lose sandals left at entrances to the site, Islam's holiest shrine.
Saudi media has talked of fears of an increase in organised crime by expatriates who make up around one third of the 24-million-strong population and analysts say clerics of Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi Islam fear losing their grip on society.
Five Saudis were beheaded last week for the murder and sexual abuse of a boy, and the total number of executions this year has more than tripled 2006's total of 38 at over 120.
It is also approaching 1995's total of 191, which rights groups say remains the highest number since they started monitoring executions in the kingdom. Last week an Egyptian man was beheaded for "sorcery", adultery and "desecrating" the Koran by placing it in a bathroom. Clerics dominate the legal system, acting as judges.