QATIF — Tens of thousands of people turned out on Monday at a mass funeral in eastern Saudi Arabia for 21 Shia Muslims killed last week in a suicide bombing claimed by Islamic State.
Saudi security forces stayed away from the funeral in Qatif, as delegates converged on the city from various regions in the eastern province, where most of the country’s Shia Muslim minority live, to attend the burial.
“Here I am, O Hussein,” the crowd chanted, invoking the name of Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Imam Hussein, one of the most revered figures in Shia Islam, as they marched towards the cemetery behind the flower-covered coffins, held shoulder-high by local men.
“This incredible number of people have come here from not only al-Qatif but from all over the country, and there are not just Shia but from many different sectors as well as foreigners,” said Sayed Ayman, one of the funeral organizers.
Friday’s attack was one of the deadliest assaults in recent years in the Gulf Arab country, where sectarian tensions have been frayed by nearly two months of Saudi-led air strikes on Shia Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen.
Saudi King Salman, in a conciliatory statement on Sunday, said he was heartbroken over the bombing and vowed to bring anyone linked to the attack or who sympathized with it to justice.
Shias, who make up 20% of kingdom and live mostly in oil rich east, complain of discrimination.
Residents of Qatif had hung placards on the funeral path denouncing sectarianism and demanding equality. They also called for closing down some private television stations run by Sunni Muslim hardliners, which Shias see as promoting hatred.
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