Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi security forces responded quickly to the terrorist attack in the Al-Ahsa governorate in the Eastern Province on Tuesday, carrying out simultaneous raids across the Kingdom to arrest 15 terror suspects believed to have been involved in attacks on Monday and Tuesday.
Three masked gunmen attacked Saudi citizens at a Shi’ite shrine in the small town of Dalwah in Al-Ahsa resulting in at least seven people being killed and seven other Saudi citizens being injured. The Saudi security and intelligence apparatus responded quickly to identify and arrest those involved in the attack.
“Fifteen men involved in the terror act were captured in simultaneous police operations across six cities, including Shaqra in Qassim province, and Al-Ahsa and Al-Khobar in the Eastern Province,” Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki told a press conference on Tuesday.
Two security officers were killed during a shootout with two suspected gunmen, who were also killed in the exchange of fire.
In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Maj. Gen. Turki confirmed that the 15 arrested suspects “embraced deviant ideology.” Saudi Arabia has often referred to the Al-Qaeda organization and its ideology as “deviant” in official missives.
“The only interpretation behind this attack on a group of citizens in Al-Ahsa is that it is an attempt to provoke ‘fitna’ in [our] society. That is why this terrorist group targeted a remote town in Al-Ahsa to target Saudi citizens,” Turki added.
“Fitna,” an Arabic term meaning “sedition” or “civil strife,” is often associated with particular religious connotations or conflicts between different religious groups or sects.
A high-level security source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the press, said that some members of this “terrorist cell” had previously been arrested or convicted on terrorist charges.
The Saudi Grand Mufti and the Council of Senior Scholars both strongly condemned the attack. The Council, which includes some of the Kingdom’s most prominent religious scholars, described the Ahsa shooting as a “dastardly attack” and a “horrendous crime,” adding that the incident “should result in the harshest form of punishment under Islamic law,” according to a statement issued by the Council’s Secretary-General Sheikh Fahd Al-Majed on Tuesday.
It also called on all Saudi citizens to “unite” against attempts by “criminals” and “enemies of Islam” to destabilize the country.
Meanwhile, Saudi Grand Mufti Shiekh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh described the terrorist attack in Al-Ahsa as a “great injustice” attempting to incite sectarian conflict in the Kingdom. “What happened in Al-Ahsa is an example of brutal aggression and a great injustice. This is carried out by sick minds seeking to incite fitna between people, God forbid,” the Grand Mufti said.
“This fitna and evil is being carried out by those who want to do us evil and open the door to sectarian conflict so that we kill and destroy each other,” he warned in a televised speech on Tuesday.
“We live in one state in security and stability and under a single government that brings us together,” the senior-most Saudi cleric added, calling for the “harshest” punishment to be dealt out to those responsible for the terrorist attack which is seeking to “divide” the Kingdom.
Additional reporting by Mirza Al-Khuwaylidi, Obeid Al-Suhaimi and Ali Al-Qatan in Al-Ahsa, Amr Al-Raslani in Riyadh, and Nasser Al-Haqbani in Riyadh.