Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body has denounced the three suicide attacks in the kingdom on Monday, including one near Islam’s second holiest site.
The Senior Council of Ulema said the bombers had “violated everything that is sacred”. Four guards were killed near the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, while only the bombers died in Jeddah and Qatif.
No group has yet said it was behind the attacks, but suspicion has fallen on so-called Islamic State (IS). The Sunni Muslim jihadist group has called for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy and its supporters have previously carried out bombings in the Gulf state, targeting the Shia minority community and security forces. IS has also claimed, or been blamed for, a series of deadly attacks in the predominantly Muslim countries of Turkey, Bangladesh and Iraq during the holy month of Ramadan.
In Monday’s first bombing, two security officers were wounded when a man detonated an explosive vest he was wearing near the US consulate in the coastal city of Jeddah shortly after midnight.
An interior ministry spokesman identified the assailant as a 35-year-old Pakistani expatriate called Abdullah Qalzar Khan, who it said had worked as a private driver in Jeddah for 12 years.
Saudi Twitter users were quick to blame so-called Islamic State for the Medina attack. Using an acronym based on the jihadist group’s previous name, more than 200,000 had used the Arabic hashtag “#Daesh_Violates_Prophet’s_Mosque” within 12 hours. Media personality Waleed al-Farraj wrote: “O Daeshi [man who belongs to IS], you will not find any holy text or Hadith [the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad] accepting the killing of a Muslim 200 metres away from the burial place of God’s Messenger.” @Naifco, said: “The more their criminality increases, the more we will come together”, while @AzzamAlDakhil wrote: “The attack on Medina is an attack on a stronghold of Islam. No one dares to attack it unless he has lost faith and mind”.
The second attack took place near dusk outside a Shia mosque in the mainly Shia eastern city of Qatif.
A resident told the Reuters news agency that there were believed to be no casualties apart from the bomber, as worshippers had already left to break their daylight Ramadan fasts.
However, the interior ministry spokesman said the remains of three people had been found and were being identified, without providing any details. Not long afterwards, another bomber struck near the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina where thousands of worshippers had gathered for the Maghrib prayers. “Security men suspected a person while he was heading to the mosque – where the Prophet Muhammad is buried – through a vacant lot of land used as a parking space for visitors’ cars,” the interior ministry spokesman said. “When they intercepted him, he blew himself by an explosive belt, which resulted in his death, martyrdom of four security men, and injury of five other security men.
On Tuesday morning, the Senior Council of Ulema issued a statement saying those behind the three attacks, whom it described as “renegades”, “have no respect for any sanctity and they have no religion or conscience”.
The head of the Shura Council, the kingdom’s main advisory body, said the attack was “unprecedented”. “This crime, which causes goosebumps, could not have been perpetrated by someone who had an atom of belief in his heart,” Abdullah al-Sheikh said.
The Grand Sheikh of Cairo’s al-Azhar University, the leading religious institute in the Sunni Muslim world, also stressed “the sanctity of the houses of God, especially the Prophet’s Mosque”. The foreign minister of Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, wrote on Twitter: “There are no more red lines left for terrorists to cross. Sunnis, Shiites will both remain victims unless we stand united as one. #Medina.”
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Interior Minister, Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, meanwhile sought to reassure his fellow citizens. “The security of the homeland is good, it is at its highest levels and thanks be to God it gets stronger every day,” the official Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying while visiting the security officers wounded in the Jeddah bombing.