A suicide bomber attacked a Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia Friday, killing around 20 people, while in Yemen a bomb exploded at a Houthi mosque in Sanaa. The attacks, which came on a Shiite holy day, were claimed by the Islamic State group.
The attack at the Imam Ali mosque in Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-dominated Eastern Province occurred during the Friday prayers. The bomber detonated a suicide belt hidden under his clothes, according to a statement released by the Saudi Interior Ministry.
“Security authorities will spare no effort in the pursuit of all those involved in this terrorist crime,” said an Interior Ministry spokesman in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.
Around 150 worshippers were commemorating the birth of Imam Hussain, a revered figure amongShiites, when a huge blast ripped through the premises, according to several witnesses.
A hospital official told Reuters by telephone that “around 20 people” were killed in the attack and more than 50 were under treatment at the hospital, some of them suffering from serious injuries.
The attack in the Qatif governorate of eastern Saudi Arabia came hours after a bomb exploded at aHouthi Shiite mosque in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, wounding 13 people, according to a Yemeni security source.
Both attacks were claimed by the Sunni extremist Islamic State (IS) group.
In a statement posted online, the IS group said “the soldiers of the Caliphate” were behind the Saudi Shiite mosque attack by a suicide bomber “who detonated an explosives belt”.
It identified the bomber as Abu Amer al-Najdi, and published a picture of him.
Earlier Friday, the IS group claimed the Yemeni Shiite mosque bombing in a statement posted on Twitter.
“Members of the caliphate in Sanaa have detonated an explosive device in a Houthi mosque in the people’s district…which lead to the death and injury of many of them,” said the jihadist group.
Hezbollah says Saudis responsible for ‘ugly crime’
Friday’s attacks came as tensions between the Sunni Muslim and Shiite Muslim worlds have been mounting, pitching Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran in a dangerous battle for power and influence across the region.
Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in the region have been mounting during weeks of military operations in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition against Shiite Houthi fighters seen as Iran’s proxies.
The latest attack targeting Shiites in Saudi Arabia was the second in six months. In November, the IS group was accused of being behind the shooting and killing of eight worshippers in the eastern Saudi Arabian village of al-Ahsa.
Lebanon’s Al-Manar television channel, run by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group, carried blurry pictures of pools of blood inside what appeared to be the Imam Ali mosque. It also showed still photos of at least three bodies stretched out on red carpets, covered with sheets. One person dressed in a white robe was being carried away on a stretcher.
In a statement released hours after the Saudi attack, Hezbollah condemned the bombing and said it “holds the Saudi authorities fully responsible for this ugly crime, for its embrace and sponsorship for these criminal murderers … to carry out similar crimes in other Arab and Muslim countries”.
Saudi imams accused of inflaming sectarian tensions
In the Shiite-dominated Qatif governorate of Saudi Arabia, residents said the Saudi airstrikes against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen have further inflamed sectarian tensions.
Since the Saudi-led war began in late March, many leading Sunni clerics in the kingdom have used Friday sermons to denounce the Houthi rebels and their Iranian backers, but also to criticise their practices of praying at tombs and shrines.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Habib Mahmoud, managing editor for the state-linked Al-Sharq newspaper in Qatif, said a few hundred people marched in mourning after the attack.
“They are bewildered by this and hold those who are inflaming sectarian rhetoric, from those on social media and in the mosques, responsible,” he said. “They mix what is Iranian and what is Shiite, and blame Shiites for Iranian actions in the region.”
Many ultraconservative Sunni Muslims in Saudi Arabia, also known as Wahhabis, view the Shiite practice of praying at the tombs of religious figures as akin to polytheism.
The country’s top cleric, Grand Mufti Abdel-Aziz al-Sheikh, told Saudi state television that the attack in Qatif aims at “driving a wedge among the sons of the nation” and described it as “a crime, shame and great sin”.
“I hold the government responsible,” al-Sada said. “The government should protect us, not encourage sermons and schoolbooks to incite against us as non-believers.”
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)