The bomber struck during the main weekly prayers in a Shiite mosque in Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, killing and wounding several people in an assault that threatens to fan sectarian tensions.
- POSTED: 23 May 2015 04:18
RIYADH: An Islamic State (IS) group suicide bomber attacked a Shiite mosque in Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia on Friday (May 22), killing and wounding several people in an assault that threatens to fan sectarian tensions. The bomber struck during the main weekly prayers in Eastern Province, where assailants linked to the Sunni extremist IS killed seven members of the minority Shiite community in November.
The interior ministry said a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at the mosque in Kudeih, in the Shiite-majority city of Qatif, the official SPA news agency reported.
"An individual detonated a bomb he was wearing under his clothes during Friday prayers at Ali Ibn Abi Taleb mosque in Kudeih in Qatif," the ministry spokesman said in a statement. He said several people were killed and wounded, without giving a breakdown.
Shiite activists and witnesses gave conflicting tolls, with one saying four worshippers were killed and others speaking of 22 dead.
IS said it was behind the attack, the first time the group has official claimed an attack in Saudi Arabia, and vowed "dark days ahead" for Shiites until militants "chase them from the Arabian Peninsula". IS considers Shiites as heretics. A statement published online said "soldiers of the Caliphate" were behind the attack by Abu Amer al-Najdi who "detonated an explosives belt" in the mosque.
The United States condemned the bombing, but White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was not immediately able to confirm it was the work of IS.
HEZBOLLAH BLAMES SAUDI
Shiite Iran demanded that the perpetrators be found and punished, and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah said it holds the Saudi authorities "totally responsible" for the bombing.
News websites in eastern Saudi Arabia posted photographs of bodies lying in pools of blood, bloodied prayer rugs and damage inside the mosque. Qatif hospital issued an urgent call for blood donations and called in off-duty staff to cope with the high number of casualties, an activist said.
Qatif resident Naseema Assada said worshippers were celebrating the birth of revered Shiite Imam Hussein when the blast occurred. "The people are very angry," she said, adding that they tried to stop police from entering Kudeih.
Residents had feared such an attack was coming, she said, because the government was failing to curb hate speech on social media against the Shiite community which complains of marginalisation. "We don't want a repeat of what is happening in Syria or Iraq here," she said, referring to the extremist IS that has declared a "caliphate" in those countries. "This is our country and we love it."
The mufti of Saudi Arabia, the country's highest-ranking Sunni cleric, denounced the attack. "It is a criminal act aimed at dividing the sons of the nation... and at sowing trouble in our country," he said on state television.
Hezbollah accused Saudi authorities of "sponsoring and backing criminal murderers" and of "failing to protect" its Shiite citizens.
The attack comes as a Saudi-led coalition has since March 26 been bombing Shiite rebels in Yemen who have overrun much of the country and forced the government to flee abroad.
‘A MATTER OF TIME’
Analysts said radical Sunnis in the ultra-conservative kingdom consider Saudi Shiites to be allies of the Yemen Huthi rebels.
"This (attack) was unfortunately only a matter of time," said Frederic Wehrey, a Gulf analyst at the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Shiites have not joined in the "wave of Sunni nationalism" that has followed the Saudi-led campaign against the rebels in Yemen, and are considered by radical Salafists as a "fifth column" for the Huthis.
The interior ministry spokesman said Saudi Arabia would "hunt down anyone involved in this terrorist crime carried out by people seeking to undermine national unity". First reports by witnesses said the suicide bomber appeared to be from Pakistan, but others said he was wearing traditional Afghan clothing.
From Islamabad, Pakistani Minister Nawaz Sharif sent condolences to families of the victims and said in a statement "terrorists are enemies of humanity which also bring a bad name to Islam".
Eastern Province is an oil-rich region populated by many Shiites. It has been rocked by sporadic protests and attacks on security forces since 2011. But in April, authorities said they arrested 93 extremists, including 62 suspected of links to IS who were plotting attacks to "incite sectarian sedition". Arrests of suspects with links to IS were also announced after gunmen last November killed seven Shiites, including children, in the eastern town of Al-Dalwa during a holy ceremony.