Saudi Shiites refuse to be provoked by suicide bombing
King Salman vowed punishment for anyone linked to the “heinous crime,” which left 21 people dead.
The interior ministry confirmed the identity of the suicide bomber who blew himself up inside a Shiite mosque in Eastern Province on Friday and said he had links with the Islamic State jihadist group.
It was the deadliest attack in years to strike the Sunni-dominated kingdom, and marked the first time IS had claimed an attack in Saudi Arabia.
“No, no, no… There is no action” in the form of retaliation, a Shiite resident who said he lost three friends in the attack in Kudeih village told AFP.
“They just want justice.”
Naseema Assada, a resident of Shiite-majority Qatif city near the stricken village, said she visited seven families whose loved ones died in the bombing.
“They are angry at Daesh and radical Sunnis,” but not at Sunnis in general, she said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Residents said two children were among the dead, and plans were being made for a mass burial.
Demonstrators took to the streets of the region on Saturday to denounce the attack, which residents said occurred despite security checkpoints in Qatif.
“This is strange,” Assada said. “The government should protect people and if it’s not, this is the government’s fault.”
In a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency late Saturday, the interior ministry identified the bomber as Salih bin Abdulrahman Salih al-Ghishaami, a Saudi national.
“He was wanted by security services for belonging to a terrorist cell receiving directions from Daesh abroad,” the ministry said.
The militant group had already claimed Friday’s attack but identified the bomber as Abu Amer al-Najdi.
“The cell was discovered last month, and so far 26 of its members, all Saudi nationals, have been arrested,” the interior ministry said, raising the number of wounded from 81 to 101.
-‘Heinous crime’ –
In a telegram to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is also the interior minister, King Salman pledged the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
“Anyone taking part, planning, supporting, cooperating or sympathising with this heinous crime will be held accountable, and will be subject to legal accountability. He will receive the deserved punishment,” the king said in the message carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
“We were… pained by the intensity of this terrorist crime that contradicts the values of Islam and humanity” and which targeted innocent civilians, he added.
It is the second mass killing of Shiites in the kingdom since late last year.
In November, gunmen killed seven Shiites in the Eastern Province town of Al-Dalwa. Authorities said the suspects were linked to IS.
Although Sunni extremists attacked Westerners and government targets in Saudi Arabia between 2003 and 2007, the Al-Dalwa shootings were the first major militant assault against Shiites.
There was no violent Shiite backlash against that attack.
IS, which considers Shiites heretics, has declared a “caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria it controls. It has claimed numerous atrocities including the beheading of foreign hostages.
Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Gulf neighbours last year joined a US-led military coalition bombing IS in Syria, raising concerns about possible retaliation in the kingdom.
Since late March, Saudi Arabia has also led a coalition bombing Iran-backed Shiite rebels who seized large parts of Yemen and have sent deadly shell fire into Saudi Arabia.
Political and religious leaders in the kingdom, and its media, were unanimous in denouncing the mosque bombing.
The interior ministry said the attack against “honourable citizens was carried out by tools controlled by foreign forces that aim to divide the unity of society and pull it into sectarian strife”.
Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, called it a “criminal act” which targeted national unity.
But columnist Khaled Almaeena, writing in Sunday’s Saudi Gazette, complained that “some imams spewed hatred and spread falsehood about Muslims of other sects…. we should not have remained silent”.
The UN Security Council and Saudi Arabia’s regional Shiite rival Iran also condemned the mosque attack.
Most of the kingdom’s Shiites live in the east, where the vast majority of the kingdom’s oil reserves lie but where Shiites have long complained of marginalisation.
The Qatif attack occurred despite the arrest since December of nearly 100 suspected jihadists, most of them allegedly linked to IS.