Several Shia Saudis killed in Ashura shooting

Several Shia Saudis killed in Ashura shooting
4 min read
04 November, 2014
Gunmen leave at least five dead in an attack on a Shia gathering in eastern Saudi Arabia.
Ashura is especially commemorated by Shia Muslims (Getty)
At least five people were killed in an attack on Shia pilgrims gathering to mark the holy day of Ashura in eastern Saudi Arabia late on Monday, police said.

A source from the family of one of the victims told al-Araby al-Jadeed that six people, including three children, were killed in a predominantly Shia village named al-Dalwa, in the province of al-Ahsa.

Nine others are said to have been injured.

The three masked gunmen fired automatic rifles and pistols at Shia leaving a building used to mourn the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammed. Images posted on social networking sites appear to show bloodstains on the ground in the al-Mustafa prayer hall in al-Dalwa.

The gunmen fled, but Saudi police arrested six suspects on Tuesday, the interior ministry said in a statement.

Ashura is commemorated by all Muslims, but is particularly important for Shias, who consider Imam Hussein as one of their most revered figures.
What is Ashura?
    Ashura (literally: "the tenth") falls on the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram, and is important to Muslims for various reasons. The day mostly comes to attention as a day of mourning for Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammed, who died on Ashura. Hussein, important to all Muslims but particularly revered by Shias, was killed and beheaded by the army of the Caliph Yazid in 680 AD.

The story of Hussein is retold by Shias on Ashura, and some people beat and even flagellate themselves in mourning. Hussein's fight against Yazid, and his ultimate death at the hands of a much larger army, is regarded as an example of fighting for justice against oppression.

Although most Sunnis agree that Hussein was killed unjustly and regard his death as a crime, they mostly do not commemorate Ashura in the same way. Islamic tradition holds that Moses led the Israelites away from Pharaoh on the day of Ashura (the story of Exodus in the Bible), and Sunnis hold a voluntary fast on the day.

Hundreds of thousands of Shia from around the world visit the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala, Iraq, every year on Ashura.

Some in the Sunni community consider the mourning of Imam Hussein's death to be blasphemous, and armed Sunni groups have attacked Ashura commemorations.

On Sunday, at least 18 were killed in a Baghdad bomb attack that targeted Shia preparing for Ashura. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS), which has swept across many parts of northern and western Iraq.

The expansion of IS, and its declaration of a caliphate, has led to calls for Shia to mark Ashura in large numbers this year, in an act of defiance.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made a rare appearance via video link where he declared that IS would be overcome.

"[IS] will be defeated in all areas and countries, and we will feel honoured that we play a role in their defeat," Nasrallah said.

Shia persecution in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's two million Shia often complain of persecution by the country's authorities, who adhere to an austere version of Islam, usually referred to as Wahhabism.
       The shocking death sentence against Sheikh al-Nimr … illustrates the lengths Saudi Arabia will go to.
- Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International

Many Wahhabis consider Shia to be heretics, and there have been various crackdowns on Saudi Shia over the years.

There are often clashes between Saudi security forces and Shia in the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Shia protests for more rights have increased since 2011, and this has also led to an increased number of arrests and clashes.

On October 15 a leading Shia cleric in eastern Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was sentenced to death, having been found guilty in a Saudi court of "disobeying the ruler" and "encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations".

The death sentence was criticised by international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International.

"The shocking death sentence against Sheikh al-Nimr… illustrates the lengths Saudi Arabia will go to in their quest to stop Shia activists from defending their rights," said Said Boumedouha, deputy director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Boumedouha went on to describe the Saudi Arabia's treatment of its Shia minority as "systematic discrimination".