ISIS threat lingers in Saudi Arabia
RIYADH - Saudi Arabia was the site of a terrorist attack for the second week in a row when a car bomb was detonated in Riyadh. The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the bombing, a reminder of the group’s danger to the kingdom.
The explosion in the Al-Azizia district on February 8th damaged a number of vehicles but no one was hurt, authorities said. The car used in the attack belonged to a member of security services, making it likely the person was being monitored by ISIS.
The SITE Monitoring Service, which tracks jihadist threats, reported that a statement released on the Telegram social messaging platform was attributed to ISIS’s Amaq news agency and said the blast was caused by a “sticky bomb” attached to the vehicle of a member of the Saudi armed forces.
The January 29th attack on a Shia mosque was more devastating, killing four people and injuring 18 others. According to Saudi counterterrorism authorities, a terrorist set off an explosives-laden vest after security forces stopped him near the al-Rida mosque — the apparent target of the attack — in the eastern Al-Ahsa region. A suspected accomplice was taken into custody after worshippers in the mosque subdued him.
Although there was no claim of responsibility, the sectarian nature of the bombing fit the modus operandi of ISIS, which prompted 50 Saudi Shia clerics to sign a petition condemning the attack on the mosque and urge officials to deal with sectarian incitement in a decisive manner.
Security has been increased around mosques in the eastern province, where most of the kingdom’s Shia minority live, following a string of attacks targeting Shia mosques in 2015. Security personnel routinely search visitors heading to houses of worship.
The Saudi Interior Ministry has appealed to the Saudi populace for help, offering financial incentives for information that leads to thwarting terrorist operations.
Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Mansour al-Turki, at a news conference following the latest attack, said the ministry is offering 7 million riyals ($1.9 million) for information that directly prevents terrorist attacks. There is also a 1 million riyals ($266,000) reward for credible information on the whereabouts of terrorists.
The announcement of the bounty coincided with the arrest of Saudi soldier Salah Al-Shahrani and his wife for their alleged involvement in an attack that killed 12 members of the kingdom’s special forces in Abha, in the south-west of the kingdom.
After the mosque attack, the Interior Ministry announced the arrest of 33 terror suspects, including nine US nationals. Following the announcement, a number of US officials told Reuters news agency that the United States could not confirm that any Americans were among the 33 suspects detained.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington was looking into the arrests. He said he was not aware that the department had been notified through official channels of the arrests, which were listed on a website affiliated with the Saudi Interior Ministry.
A diplomatic source told The Arab Weekly, on condition of anonymity, that the State Department was following up on the matter.
In 2014, Saudi Arabia designated ISIS a terrorist organisation and it and its Gulf neighbours joined a US-led military coalition attacking ISIS in Syria, which some feared would result in a regional jihadist blowback. In 2015, ISIS claimed responsibility for three attacks on Shia mosques in the eastern region of Qatif, which killed more than 25 people.
A mass execution, in which a group, most of whom were jihadists, was put to death January 2nd, prompted ISIS to threaten to destroy Saudi prisons holding jihadists.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are members of a US-led international coalition conducting air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq and both countries have said they were prepared to commit ground troops to that fight.
The kingdom also works closely with Washington in its war against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Saudi security authorities in July said they had foiled operations sponsored by ISIS and arrested more than 400 individuals allegedly affiliated with the group.