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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Saudi woman's car torched in suspected hate crime

Police are investigating but said the fire showed all the signs of arson

Saudi women took to the streets on June 24 in a historic move for the Kingdom. AFP / FAYEZ NURELDINE
Saudi women took to the streets on June 24 in a historic move for the Kingdom. AFP / FAYEZ NURELDINE

A woman’s car in Makkah was deliberately set on fire in a suspected hate crime less than two weeks after Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-long ban on women driving.

Police said they are in pursuit of the arsonists, having extinguished the fire on Tuesday morning.

Dr Aati bin Atiya, a police spokesman in Makkah, said an investigation was under way.

Although not confirmed, it is widely believed that the perpetrator set fire to the car to express disapproval with women driving in Saudi Arabia.

A video posted on Twitter showed the car burned out and a woman, purportedly the owner of the car, saying: "May God deal with them".

Many Saudis took to Twitter to express support for the woman. The incident took place in Al Sammad, a town an hour away from Makkah by car.

"If the act was done because the owner of the car was a woman, then it is a terrorist act, under a terrorist crime and should be dealt with accordingly," Nayef Al Mansi, a lawyer in Jeddah, said in a tweet.

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Public sentiment within the kingdom has been of overwhelming support for the royal decree to allow women to drive, with many citing economic development and social liberties among the benefits.

"Every Saudi Arabian I spoke to has been happy, we are incredibly happy for our sisters, mothers, wives, women to be able to take this step forward," said Ahmed Omran, a Saudi banker.

Okaz, a daily Saudi newspaper , interviewed the owner of the car, Salwa Sharif, who said she was distraught after being subjected to the attack on the first day that she drove.

Saudi conservatives who are against the royal decree have expressed their discontent, but doing so publicly would be considered criticism against the state and carry a hefty punishment.

"God help us, I don't know why this is the change they want, I am afraid of what will happen,” said AK, a Saudi Uber driver who spoke to The National on condition of anonymity.

Critics of ending the female driving ban say it is one of many measures that have limited the power of the kingdom's morality police under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.