Qatif and Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia vowed to hunt down those behind the deadly terrorist attack on a Shi’ite mosque in the village of Al-Qadeeh in the eastern province of Qatif on Friday.
The blast at the Ali Ibn Abu Talib Mosque in the small town of Al-Qadeeh is the second attack on a Shi’ite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia in the last six months. At least 21 worshipers were killed, including a six-year-old child, while 97 others were injured in the attack.
The attack is believed to have been carried out by a lone suicide bomber, although the circumstances are still being investigated by Saudi security authorities. “What is important now is that we stop the masterminds behind this cowardly act and arrest them,” Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki told international media following the attack.
Eyewitnesses informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the suicide bomber entered the mosque after the Friday sermon in the middle of prayers, locking the door of the mosque behind him before detonating himself in the midst of the worshipers.
“The suicide bomber broke into the middle of the praying ranks with the aim of killing the largest number of casualties,” an eye-witness said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, although Al-Turki described those responsible for the attack as part of the “deviant group,” Saudi shorthand for Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
ISIS subsequently issued a statement on Friday saying it was responsible for the attack, although the claim of responsibility has yet to be independently verified. The claim was posted on militant websites affiliated to the group, along with an image of the alleged bomber. He is identified as a Saudi citizen with the nom de guerre Abu Amer Al-Najdi, indicating that he is from the central Najd region of the Kingdom. ISIS also threatened more “black days” for Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite community. Saudi authorities have yet to respond to the ISIS claim of responsibility.
One survivor of the attack told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I was in the eighth or ninth row of those praying and the force of the explosion toppled me off my feet and spread smoke across the mosque . . . But thanks be to God I was unharmed.”
Those killed and wounded in Friday’s attack were mostly praying near the back of the mosque.
Asharq Al-Awsat visited the Ali Ibn Abu Talib Mosque in Al-Qadeeh on Friday just hours after the attack and witnessed a chaotic scene, with angry worshipers filling the area around the mosque and debris still covering the mosque floor.
The Friday prayers were led by Sheikh Abdel Aal Saud Al-Abd Al Aal, who had temporarily taken over from the mosque’s imam, Sheikh Abbas Al-Anki, who was absent for health reasons.
Sheikh Anki left his sickbed upon hearing of the attack and was present at the mosque to comfort worshipers on Friday evening. “We must not allow the terrorists to divide us and undermine national cohesion,” he said.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Al-Sheikh said: “Those who carried out this heinous crime are enemies of the nation; they do not represent Islam and are working to divide the Ummah [Muslim community] and incite and spread chaos.”
Reporting by Mirza Al-Khuwaylidi from Qatif, Obeid Al-Suhaimi and Ali Al-Qattan from Dammam