x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 September 2017

Four killed in suicide bomb attack outside Saudi mosque

Four people were killed on Friday when a suicide bomber tried to enter a Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia, the official Saudi Press Agency confirmed, the second attack of its kind in a week.

Saudi Arabian security forces and forensic personnel inspect the site of a suicide bombing that targeted the Shiite Al Anoud mosque in the coastal city of Dammam on May 29. AFP Photo
Saudi Arabian security forces and forensic personnel inspect the site of a suicide bombing that targeted the Shiite Al Anoud mosque in the coastal city of Dammam on May 29. AFP Photo

RIYADH // A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia during Friday prayers, killing four people in the second such attack in as many weeks claimed by ISIL.

The attack, which set vehicles alight and sent a cloud of black smoke into the air, came after a suicide bombing a week ago at another Shiite mosque killed 21 people.

Both attacks took place in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, which has a sizeable Shiite majority that has long complained of discrimination. ISIL and other extremists view Shiites as apostates deserving of death.

There were conflicting reports of the attack, which took place after worshippers packed the Al Anoud mosque, the only Shiite mosque in the port city of Dammam.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency said security guards halted a car in the car park of the mosque and that the bomber detonated his payload as they approached. “Thank God, security authorities managed to foil a terrorist crime targeting worshippers,” the agency said. It was unclear if the bomber was among the four dead.

A security official said that the attacker had disguised himself as a woman and blew himself up after being stopped by security guards.

Mohammed Idris, an witness, said that the suicide bomber attempted to enter the mosque but was chased by young men, who had set up checkpoints at the entrance of the mosque.

“They chased the suicide bomber when he tried to enter the women’s section of the mosque in the south entrance,” he said. He identified one of the dead as Abdul Jalil Abrash, a 25-year-old graduate student from an American university.

Ali Jaafar, another witness, said that the explosion set several cars on fire.

“It was big and loud,” he said. “The whole thing was very disturbing.”

The blast erupted as prayers were under way at the packed mosque, according to video footage broadcast by Arabiya. Thick smoke billowed from the scene.

Activist Ahmed Ali said mosques had imposed security measures after the attack last week, including closing off women’s prayers area and forming committees, in coordination with Saudi Arabian authorities, to search worshippers.

When the bomber found the area reserved for women closed, he went to the main gate, Mr Ali said. Two of those killed were guards who pushed him away, he said.

A third witness, who did not want to be named because of security concerns, said he saw the remains of a victim in the car park. He said that security had been tightened at mosques because of last week’s attack and that women were told not to come because of a lack of female searchers to check them.

Mohammed Al Saeedi, who arrived half an hour after the blast, said by phone that four cars were damaged by the explosion, and body parts apparently from the bomber were scattered around the site.

“Pieces of the body were everywhere at the main gate and in the roof of the mosque,” he said. He called on police to do a better job of sharing information with the local community to protect against future attacks.

ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out by its “Najd Province,” referring to a region in the central Arabian Peninsula.

A statement posted on a Facebook page used by the extremist group said a “soldier of the caliphate,” identified as Abu Jandal Al Jazrawi, blew himself up among “an evil gathering of those filth in front of one of their shrines in Dammam.” The name Al Jazrawi suggests that the bomber is a Saudi Arabian national.

Last Friday, an ISIL suicide bomber killed 21 people in the village of Al Qudeeh, in the eastern Qatif region. It was the deadliest militant assault in the kingdom since a 2004 Al Qaeda attack on foreign worker compounds. Saudi Arabia’s king vowed to punish those responsible for last Friday’s “heinous terrorist attack.”

* Associated Press, Bloomberg News