Riyadh Shia Muslims vowed Saturday to continue commemorations of Ashura even after a gunman killed five people at one of their gatherings, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.
Friday’s attack in the Qatif area of Eastern Province was the latest in a series of bombings and shootings linked to the extremist group in Saudi Arabia over the past year.
A suspect with an automatic weapon “started to shoot randomly” at a Hussaynia in the Saihat area of Qatif city in the evening, an interior ministry spokesman said in a statement.
Five people, including a woman, were killed and nine others were wounded, he said.
Police intervened and opened fire, killing the suspect, the spokesman said without giving details about the attacker, adding that the shooting was being investigated.
Most previous attacks in Saudi Arabia have targeted the minority Shia community which often complains of marginalisation.
A video, allegedly of the attack, posted on YouTube showed terrified people, among them many children, running frantically for cover while gun shots could be heard.
Ali al-Bahrani who witnessed the attack said that the gunman was shooting at random as worshippers attended a sermon.
The Ashura commemorations — which peak late next week — mark the killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed (Pbuh), by the army of the Ummayad caliph Yazid in 680 AD.
– ‘Criminalise sectarianism’ –
Jaafar al-Abbad, the uncle of the dead woman, Buthaina al-Abbad, 22, said she died a “martyr for the sake of her beliefs”.
“She was about to graduate from university as a doctor. Now she is a martyr, and this is even better,” he said.
“People are pouring in to congratulate her parents,” said Abbad.
He echoed other residents saying such attacks “will not deter us from continuing to observe our rituals”.
Nasema al-Sada, an activist from Eastern Province, said that since the start of Muharram volunteers have set up checkpoints at the entrances to places of worship in coordination with authorities.
Residents from the city of Dammam, where Shia are not allowed to commemorate the Muharram rituals come to Saihat to attend services, said Sada.
Witnesses said the a Husseiniya and an adjacent mosque were both targeted in Friday’s shooting.
“We demand more protection and a law that would criminalise sectarianism,” said Sada. “We are living in a place made out of paper, which could catch fire any minute.”
“People are angry. And these attacks will only make us more attached to our rituals,” she said.
“They can’t stop us from practising our beliefs.”
– IS seen as ‘enemy’ –
Security has been tightened at Shia facilities since May when separate suicide mosque bombings killed 25 people.
During Ashura last year, gunmen killed seven worshippers, including children, in the eastern town of Al-Dalwa.
The interior ministry said the unprecedented incident had links to ISIS — which has also targeted Saudi police.
Earlier Friday, Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, branded ISIS as an enemy of Islam.
“The reality is that they are shedding Muslim blood and destroying Islam. There is no good in them,” he said during weekly prayers at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh.
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