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Islamic militancy

Saudis stop ‘terrorist network’ suicide bomber from attacking Islam’s holiest site

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 June, 2017, 4:59am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 June, 2017, 11:34pm

Saudi security forces on Friday foiled a suicide attack on the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, cornering the would-be attacker in an apartment, where he blew himself up, the Interior Ministry said.

In a statement read on state television, the ministry said that three cells had planned the attack on worshippers and security forces at the mosque as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan nears its climax.

The trapped would-be suicide bomber exchanged fire with the security forces, then set off explosives when he was surrounded in a house in the central Mecca neighbourhood of Ajyad al-Masafi near the mosque that had been used as the base for the attack, the ministry said.

The building collapsed, injuring six foreigners and five members of the security forces.

Purported images from the scene that circulated on social media showed an alley filled with bricks and other debris apparently from a blast.

Video showed what appeared to be a bearded man’s head lying among rubble from a collapsed structure.

Earlier on Friday, security forces had shot dead a wanted man at another suspected Islamist militant hideout in Mecca’s al-Aseelah neighbourhood. The ministry also said a third cell had been broken up in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, but gave no further details.

Five suspected militants including a woman were arrested, it said.

On Saturday, the ministry said it “confirms that this terrorist network, whose terrorist plan was thwarted, violated, in what they would have perpetrated, all sanctities by targeting the security of the Grand Mosque, the holiest place on Earth”.

“They obeyed their evil and corrupt self-serving schemes managed from abroad whose aim is to destabilise the security and stability of this blessed country,” it said in a statement.

The month of fasting ends with the Eid-al-Fitr holiday, expected to be on Sunday. Saudi monarchs usually spend the last 10 days of Ramadan in Mecca.

Al Arabiya broadcast live footage of Muslim worshippers praying in the mosque, with no interruption.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the plot to attack the mosque, but the Islamic State group, which wants to establish a theocratic caliphate ruled according to strict Islamic law, had in the past carried out attacks in the kingdom.

In May last year, Saudi security forces shot dead two alleged Islamic State fighters outside Mecca, and two others blew themselves up outside Mecca.

Since late 2014, Saudi Arabia has faced periodic bombings and shootings claimed by the Islamic State group.

Last year, four people died near the end of Ramadan in the Saudi city of Medina in an explosion close to Islam’s second holiest site, the Prophet’s Mosque.

It was one of three suicide blasts around the kingdom on the same day, and which the US Central Intelligence Agency said bore the hallmarks of IS.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah condemned the bombing attempt. The group, which is considered a terrorist organisation by the Saudi government and some Western nations, said targeting the Grand Mosque shows that the ideology of extremists has no respect for holy places. It urged religious leaders to oppose such an ideology.

Both Iran and Qatar on Saturday voiced support for Saudi Arabia over the suicide bombing, despite their severed ties.

“Iran ... as always expresses its readiness to assist and cooperate with other countries to confront these criminals, who deal death and ignorantly spread hate,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said.

The Qatari foreign ministry expressed “solidarity with the brotherly kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.

Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuters