Islamic State Claims Mosque Bombing in Saudi Arabia

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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The Islamic State has claimed that it orchestrated and executed last week’s terror attack on a Shiite mosque in the city of Qatif, Saudi Arabia. The attack was swiftly condemned by the Saudi monarch, all segments of Saudi society and a host of regional observers. A common thread of the commentaries on the matter is the call for greater unity and solidarity between the Sunni and Shia communities in Saudi Arabia, as well as demands for retaliatory measures against the Islamic State. While many have expressed confidence in the Saudi society’s resilience and ability to stay united in the face of such terrorist attacks, it remains to be seen how Riyadh will push back against the extremist ideology that has made the Islamic State a force to be reckoned with in the region.

According to Saudi news reports, following the mosque attack, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman charged his interior minister to act swiftly, charging that “’[a]ny participant, planner, supporter or sympathizer of this heinous crime will be held accountable, tried and will receive the punishment he deserves,’ the King said in a cable addressed to Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior. ‘We were pained by the enormity of the crime of this terrorist aggression which contradicts Islamic and humanitarian values,’ the King said…. King Salman also ordered to extend urgent treatment to all those injured in the mosque attack, Prince Saud Bin Naif, emir of the Eastern Province, told reporters after visiting the victims at Qatif Central Hospital on Saturday.”

Condemnation of the mosque attack has also come from the Gulf News editorial: “The suicide bombing has been claimed by Daesh (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and represents a blatant, cynical and deliberate attempt to spread division and hatred within Saudi Arabia. By deliberately attacking a Shiite mosque in such a provocative and sickening manner, Daesh is attempting to reap, in its sick, demented and twisted mind, the ‘benefits’ of sectarian hatred….This attack — violating the sanctity of a mosque — must be denounced loudly, clearly and widely, in the strongest possible terms….Daesh believes in a perverted and corrupt set of values diametrically opposed to the fundamental teachings of Islam. Its actions — be it in suicide attacks on worshippers as they pray, slaughtering resident of towns where it takes control, and destroying the heritage of past civilizations — are crimes against all humanity in a moral if not strict legal definition.” 

Arab News’ Abdulateef Al-Mulhim also points out that the IS attack is aimed at stoking sectarian violence inside Saudi Arabia, but that is unlikely to work, considering the rejection of such violence by large segments of Saudi society: “It does not need very high IQ to understand that the attack was a dirty tactic to stoke sectarian tensions in the Kingdom. The terrorists are making efforts to drag the Saudi society into a mindless and endless cycle of violence by trying to drive a wedge between Sunnis and Shiites…. Fortunately, majority of the Saudis have already said no to sectarianism thus foiling attempts of the deviant elements. It is so sad to see innocent, simple and hardworking people losing their lives due to the madness of a handful of people hell bent on imposing their deviant ideology on others…. Saudis belonging to all segments of society condemn the attack and vehemently oppose the nonsense ideology of the attackers. We fully realize the true purpose of such attacks. Saudi will never allow anybody to divide their society along sectarian lines.”

Brim Zohra echoed those remarks, adding that he was confident the Saudi government will respond swiftly against the perpetrators of the crime: “What happened in a Qatif mosque in Saudi Arabia on Friday is truly reprehensible…. The Shiite population in Saudi Arabia has always been protected. In fact, acts of terrorism against any community have always been roundly condemned by the majority of nation and the response from the authorities is one of uncompromised reassurance that the minorities will be kept safe…. These victims were not involved in any war. They had come to pray…. If they feel that the country will surrender its beliefs and give an inch under pressure they are so wrong. Saudi Arabia has seen much worse times and endured. It has crushed terror before and will crush it again. And this stance cannot and will not change.”

Also writing for the main Saudi daily, Arab News, Rasheed Abou-Alsamh cautions that while the Saudi society has proven resilient in the past and will most likely continue to do so, both Sunnis and Shias must be more willing to share in acts of kindness and solidarity toward each other: “The enemies of Saudi Arabia are constantly trying to stir sectarian tension in the Eastern Province, hoping that the situation will explode and engulf our oil-producing region and cause irreparable harm to our economy, security, sense of well-being and stability. Fortunately, despite these evil schemes to try and make this happen, nothing even close to their nightmare scenarios has ever taken place….. On my trip to Qatif, I was invited by a group of young Saudi Shiites that I had befriended, to pray with them. I politely accepted, and prayed the Maghreb prayer alongside them at their small mosque. It was a serene moment that pleased all of us, as I a Sunni Saudi joined them to pray to the one and same Allah. If only more of us practiced such acts across the country, and across the Arab and Muslim worlds, sectarianism would not have a chance to breed and grow, and thus cause so much strife and bloodshed as it does today.”

The attacks in Saudi Arabia are seen by many in the context of similar actions in the region, including Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Given the deterioration of the security environment in each of those countries, it is not surprising that the Saudi Gazette’s editorial staff takes a hard line against the terrorist attack and urge the Saudi government not to be lenient against the culprits: “The Kingdom is surrounded by danger on all sides; we are in a continuous fight against terrorists…. We have seen how terrorists have promoted sectarianism among people in Iraq and Syria. We have seen how attacks against the innocent are always met with counterattacks. This is something that draws countries into a never-ending cycle of violence. This is what the terrorists and the enemies of our Kingdom have been seeking. They wish to disrupt the Kingdom’s peace and security by attacking certain segments of society and inciting one group to retaliate against the other…. Our government needs to deal with terrorists with an iron fist. Let us not be lenient with anyone who intends to spread his devilish ideologies in our society.”

Saudi Arabia, suggests Asharq Alawsat’s Salman Aldosary, has the necessary experience to deal with the threat. However, Aldosary worries that IS cannot be eliminated without waging a war against the very twisted ideology that gives rise to such terrorist organizations: “Statistically speaking, Saudi Arabia is one of the countries most targeted by terrorist organizations falsely claiming to be Muslim or representatives of Islam. The numbers also show that Saudi Arabia is one of the most capable and successful countries in the world when it comes to combating terrorism and foiling terrorist plots…. At the same time that Saudi Arabia’s security apparatus have succeeded in besieging terrorist organizations, arresting sleeper cells and generally reducing the harm that terrorism can cause, it is practically impossible to stop every single terrorist operation in light of regional and international inaction…. However addressing extremist ideology and pursuing those who are financing terrorism and justifying its crimes is another matter, and this will be a difficult battle that requires a clear-minded and stringent response that does not ignore those who speak out against terrorism today, only to return to supporting and justifying it tomorrow. This is the real war that Saudi Arabia needs to be fighting today, before it is too late.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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