Suicide bomber targets Shia in Saudi Arabia

Suicide bomber targets Shia in Saudi Arabia
A suicide bomber set off an explosion during weekly prayers in a Shia mosque of eastern Saudi Arabia leaving many dead Friday.
3 min read
Saudi Shia Muslim men mourn during the commemoration of Ashura [File - Getty]

A suicide bomber targeted a mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia as worshippers were commemorating the 7th century birth of a revered Shia figure on Friday, an activist and witnesses in the area said. 

Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry reported that an explosion struck a mosque in the eastern province of Qatif after Friday prayers, without providing further details. It was not immediately clear how many people were wounded or killed in the attack.

It is the second deadly attack against minority Shia in the kingdom in six months.

In November, the extremist Islamic State group was blamed for shooting dead eight worshippers in eastern Saudi Arabia's al-Ahsa village.

Activist Naseema al-Sada told The Associated Press by telephone from Qatif that the suicide bomber attacked worshippers as they were commemorating the birth of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet and a major figure in Shia Islam. 

She said a doctor at the hospital told her as many as 12 people have been confirmed dead and that the hospital has called on residents to donate blood. 

A witness to the attack said that the attacker detonated his suicide vest just as he was entering the mosque. The witness spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. 

Lebanon's Al-Manar television channel, run by the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah group, carried still, blurry pictures of pools of blood inside what appeared to be the mosque where the attack took place. It also showed still photos of at least three bodies stretched out on red carpets, covered with sheets. One person dressed in a white robe was being carried away on a stretcher.

Shia in eastern Saudi Arabia have long complained of discrimination. They say that despite the region being home to most of the kingdom's oil reserves, their streets, buildings and infrastructure are in poor condition. They say unemployment runs high among Shia youth in the area.

In 2011, Shia in the east inspired by the Arab Spring uprising in neighboring Bahrain took the streets to demand greater rights. Police arrested hundreds of people and a counterterrorism court sentenced an outspoken cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, to death.  

Al-Sada and others say that Saudi Arabia's airstrikes against rebels in Yemen have further inflamed sectarian tensions.

Since the Saudi-led war began in late March, many leading Sunni clerics in the kingdom have used Friday sermons to denounce the Houthi rebels and their Iranian backers, but also to criticize their practices of praying at tombs and shrines.

"I hold the government responsible," al-Sada said. "The government should protect us, not encourage sermons and schoolbooks to incite against us as non-believers."

"We want them to prevent this from happening in the first place," she said. 

Just before the Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis, suicide bombers in Yemen's capital attacked a pair of mosques, killing 137 people. A purported affiliate of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings, which also wounded 357 people.