Third ISIS branch emerges in Saudi Arabia
LONDON - The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for an attack in which a gunman killed five people, including a woman, in a meeting hall in Saudi Arabia’s largely Shia Eastern province.
In an online statement, a new ISIS branch calling itself “Bahrain Province” said it was behind the October 16th attack in Saihat. Bahrain Province named the attacker and said he used a rifle to attack Shia worshippers.
“With the approval of God Almighty, the soldier of the caliphate Shuja al-Dosari, may God accept him, set his Kalashnikov upon one of the apostate polytheists’ temples, as they finished their polytheist rituals,” the statement said in a reference to the Shia observance of Ashura. It is a commemoration of the martyrdom at Karbala of Imam Hussein, a figure revered within the Shia-branch of Islam.
The statement went on to say that “infidels will not be safe in the peninsula of” the Prophet Mohammad.
According to Saudi authorities, three ISIS operatives, driving a stolen taxi, were involved in the operation. Police killed one attacker and arrested the other two.
Saudi authorities released additional information on the militant killed in the shoot-out, revealing that he was in his 20s and was wanted by local authorities after his family reported him missing and that he had embraced Islamic extremism. The officials did not name him pending results of DNA tests.
Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Mansour al- Turki said the attacker was spotted the evening of October 16th carrying a firearm and was “shooting randomly at passers-by around the mosque when a security patrol at the site exchanged fire with the shooter and killed him”.
ISIS has launched a number of attacks in Saudi Arabia in the last year, with the goal of stirring sectarian strife within the majority Sunni kingdom.
In May, a suicide bomber attacked a Shia mosque in al-Qadeeh village in Qatif province, killing 22 people. This was followed by an attack on the Imam Hussein mosque in Dammam a week later that left four people dead.
An ISIS-affiliated group calling itself Najd Province, named after the region around Riyadh, claimed responsibility for the attacks as well as a suicide bombing that killed 26 people at a Shia mosque in Kuwait in June.
This has resulted in a crackdown by Saudi authorities reminiscent of its pursuit of al-Qaeda more than ten years ago. In July, Saudi security authorities revealed that they had thwarted a number of operations sponsored by ISIS while arresting more than 400 individuals allegedly affiliated with it.
Among the operations the Interior Ministry said it thwarted was a potential suicide bombing at a large mosque in the kingdom’s Eastern province, with a capacity to hold 3,000 worshippers. The ministry revealed that other mosques and diplomatic and security targets were on ISIS’s agenda.
ISIS has been exceptionally successful in its ability to recruit members globally and the Gulf Cooperation Council states have been no exception. This has prompted authorities in Saudi Arabia to arrest a number of individuals involved in establishing and maintaining militant websites and social media accounts.
The crackdown has also led to independent activists in Saudi Arabia joining the fight in cyberspace by launching an organised campaign designed to identify ISIS social media accounts and subsequently closing them down. The online campaign has shuttered more than 300 accounts belonging to ISIS or its sympathisers.
Saudi Arabia’s air force is actively participating in the US-led bombing strikes against ISIS insurgents in Syria, marking the first time since the 1991 Gulf War that Arab states have joined US-led military action.