Saudi King Vows to Punish Attackers of Shia Mosque

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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pledged on Sunday that anyone linked to the killing of 21 minority Shia Muslims will face justice for the ‘heinous crime.’

Salman made the vow in a telegram to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is also the interior minister.

“Anyone taking part, planning, supporting, cooperating or sympathising with this heinous crime will be held accountable, and will be subject to legal accountability. He will receive the deserved punishment,” the king said in the message carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

More than 100 people were also wounded when a Saudi suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a mosque in Qatif in the Shia majority eastern Saudi Arabia on Friday.

The king said “we were… pained by the intensity of this terrorist crime that contradicts the values of Islam and humanity” and which targeted innocent civilians.

The interior ministry said the suicide bomber belonged to a cell of which 26 members have been arrested.

They are angry and grief-stricken, but Saudi Arabia’s minority Shia refused on Sunday to be provoked by a deadly mosque bombing that authorities called an attempt to promote sectarian strife.

The interior ministry confirmed the identity of the suicide bomber who blew himself up inside inside jam packed Imam Ali Mosque during Friday prayers, killing 21, and said he had links with the Islamic State jihadist group.

 “No, no, no… There is no action” in the form of retaliation, a Shia resident who said he lost three friends in the attack on Kudeih village told AFP.

“They just want justice.”

Naseema Assad, a resident of Qatif city near the stricken village, said she visited seven families whose loved ones died in the bombing.

“They are angry at Daesh and radical Sunnis,” but not at Sunnis in general, she said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Residents said two children were among the dead, and plans were being made for a mass burial.

Demonstrators took to the streets of the region on Saturday to denounce the attack, which residents said occurred despite security checkpoints in Qatif.

“This is strange,” Assad said. “The government should protect people and if it’s not, this is the government’s fault.”

In a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency late Saturday, the interior ministry identified the bomber as Salih bin Abdulrahman Salih al-Ghishaami, a Saudi national.

“He was wanted by security services for belonging to a terrorist cell receiving directions from Daesh abroad,” the ministry said.

The militant group had already claimed Friday’s attack but identified the bomber as Abu Amer al-Najdi.

“The cell was discovered last month, and so far 26 of its members, all Saudi nationals, have been arrested,” the interior ministry said, raising the number of wounded from 81 to 101.

It is the second mass killing of Shias in the kingdom since late last year.

In November, gunmen killed seven Shia youth in the Eastern Province town of Al-Dalwa. 

Although Sunni extremists attacked Westerners and government targets in Saudi Arabia between 2003 and 2007, the Al-Dalwa shootings were the first major militant assault against Shia community.

There was no violent Shia backlash against that attack.

The IS group has declared a “caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria it controls. It has claimed numerous atrocities including the beheading of foreign hostages.

Political and religious leaders in the kingdom, and its media, were unanimous in denouncing the mosque bombing.

The interior ministry said the attack against “honourable citizens was carried out by tools controlled by foreign forces that aim to divide the unity of society and pull it into sectarian strife”.

Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, called it a “criminal act” which targeted national unity.

But columnist Khaled Almaeena, writing in Sunday’s Saudi Gazette, complained that “some imams spewed hatred and spread falsehood about Muslims of other sects…. we should not have remained silent.”

The UN Security Council and Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran also condemned the mosque attack.

Most of the kingdom’s Shia live in the east, where the vast majority of the kingdom’s oil reserves lie but where Shia have long complained of marginalisation.

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