DUBAI: Masked gunmen opened indiscriminate fire with automatic rifles on an Ashura gathering in a Saudi Arabian town killing at least five Shia Muslims, security sources said Tuesday.
The minority Shia community in Dalwa, located in the oil-rich Al-Ahsa region, was left shocked and fearful after the unprecedented attack that highlighted sectarian tensions in the kingdom.
A witness, who said he saw two of the bodies, said one was a nine-year-old boy.
Shooting took place late Monday in Eastern Province as Shias prepared to mark the climax of Ashura.
It was on this day when Imam Hussain, the beloved grandson of Prophet Muhammad was slain along with his kin and followers by the army of Omayyad caliph Yazeed in Karbala 61 years after Prophets passing.
Nine other worshippers were wounded in the fresh attack.
Al-Arabiya TV described the 10-strong group of attackers as Saudi nationals led by a man who had fought in Iraq and Syria.
Reports from Riyadh said three masked assailants fired machine guns and pistols at random on a crowd leaving a husseiniya (place of worship) in the village of al-Dalwa on the eve of Ashura on Monday.
Footage posted online showed corpses lying in pools of blood after the attack in the oil-rich eastern region, where most of Saudi Arabia's two million Shias live.
Bloodstains were seen on the carpet of the hall where the commemorations were being held.
Members of Saudi Arabia's Shia minority clash sporadically with police in their region. But Monday's shooting was the first direct assault against them by unknown gunmen.
It's very surprising because it's the first time, said Nasima al-Sada, a resident of Eastern Province. We are shocked.
A witness, who reported hearing sustained gunfire during the attack, said the Shia community feels helpless and fearful.
All (the) people are really worried, he said, asking to remain anonymous. We know they hate us, he said, referring to extremists.
Guardian newspaper Wednesday reported that the Sunni jihadis of Islamic State (Isis) now pose a real security threat inside the conservative kingdom just as the fighters returning from the Saudi-backed anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, later to make up al-Qaida, were seen as blowback against the ruling Al Saud dynasty.
Saudi Arabia has been blamed for the rise of Isis by funding armed extremist groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, while thousands of its nationals have fought in Syria and Iraq, many encouraged by extremist clerics.
In recent months however it has imposed stricter controls and criminalised fighting abroad while also announcing scores of arrests.
Saudi Arabia's supreme council of Sunni clerics, alarmed by the rise of Jihadist militancy, condemned Monday's attack as criminal, urging Saudis to close ranks in standing up against the treacherous criminals.
The enemies of our religion and our homeland aim to attack our unity and stability, the council said in a rare statement as attacks on Shias are seldom condemned officially.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.