Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry has announced that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) ordered the attack on a Shi’ite shrine in the small town of Dalwah in the country’s Al-Ahsa governorate earlier this month, which resulted in the deaths of seven Saudi citizens.
Three masked gunmen attacked worshipers at a Shi’ite Husseiniya (meeting house) in the east of the country earlier this month. Riyadh launched a nationwide counterterrorist operation following the attack to track down those responsible, arresting a total of 77 people in successive raids across the country.
The Saudi Interior Ministry announced on Monday that the attack on Dalwah was directly ordered by ISIS, and that the terrorist cell’s leader—as well as three other members of the group—have direct links to the terrorist group that is spreading throughout Iraq and Syria.
Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki said that the unnamed head of the terrorist cell had received specific orders from abroad including the target and timing of the attack.
“ISIS is working to destroy everything that it can to incite fitna and chaos in society and destroy the stability of the Kingdom by targeting innocent citizens, as well as religious figures, government officials and government and security infrastructure,” he said.
“Fitna,” an Arabic term meaning “sedition” or “civil strife,” is often associated with particular religious connotations or conflicts between different religious groups or sects. The attack on Al-Ahsa targeted Saudi Shi’ites, with many observers warning this could set off sectarian violence between Saudi citizens. However, the attack was roundly condemned by Saudi Sunni and Shi’ite religious leaders, who have called for steadfastness and unity in the face of such attacks.
Turki hailed Saudi Arabia’s response to the Ahsa attack, confirming that the security apparatus had been able to quickly identify and track down those responsible within a matter of hours. “We have been able to arrest everyone affiliated with this terrorist group, whether those who pledged allegiance to the leader of the group, or participants, supporters, financiers, or those who provide cover,” he said.
The Interior Ministry spokesman said that the four main perpetrators of the shooting, including the terrorist cell leader, were believed to be among those arrested in successive raids following the attack. As for the other 74 suspects arrested, they are believed to have provided material assistance to the attackers. He confirmed that all those arrested were Saudi nationals, with the exception of one Turkish national, one Syrian national and one Jordanian national. Three terrorist suspects were killed in the nationwide security raids that took place following the attack, including two Saudi nationals and one Qatari. Two Saudi security officers were also killed.
Saudi security forces carried out simultaneous raids in 13 cities across the Kingdom within days of the attack, capturing or killing those involved in the Al-Ahsa terrorist attack.
The Interior Ministry spokesman also revealed that 32 of those arrested have previous terrorism-related convictions, including three of the main perpetrators of the attack who had ties to the “deviant” group, Saudi state terminology for Al-Qaeda.