A suicide bomber killed at least 10 members of Saudi Arabia’s security forces in an attack at a Sunni military mosque near the border with Yemen, a departure from recent attacks that have targeted the kingdom’s Shiite minority.
The prayer-time bombing, which al-Jazeera reported was claimed by Islamic State, also killed three workers and injured nine others inside a security forces headquarters in the southwestern region of Asir, according to the interior ministry. Two more security forces personnel died later from injuries, state-run broadcaster al-Ekhbariya reported.
Television footage showed blown-out windows, blood-stained walls and the mosque’s red carpet covered with debris and Korans. The military base is home to “special emergency forces,” the press agency reported.
“This cowardly terrorist act reflects corrupt thinking with the goal of destabilizing the country’s security and spreading terror in the hearts of citizens,” Asir Governor Faisal bin Khalid said in a statement carried by the agency.
Attacks in Saudi Arabia have increased since the government joined U.S.-led operations against the Sunni jihadists of Islamic State in Syria last year. Two Shiite mosques were targeted over consecutive weeks in May in the kingdom’s oil-rich eastern province, with the deadliest killing 21 worshipers. In neighboring Kuwait, 26 people died in a bombing at a Shiite mosque in June.
Saudi Arabia is also leading a bombing offensive in Yemen in a bid to restore an ally ousted from power and forced into exile by Shiite Houthi rebels earlier this year.
Thursday’s attack was the first against a Saudi mosque used by the nation’s majority Sunnis since the siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979, according to Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates, which advises clients on risk in the Middle East.
As such, the blast carries a “double-symbolism,” Nuseibeh said. “It’s an attack against the security forces of Saudi Arabia. The other part of the symbolism is that it” targeted a Sunni mosque, he said.
Saudi authorities have said they foiled more mosque attacks and assassinations planned for the holy month of Ramadan, which ended in July. The Interior Ministry said last month 431 Islamic State supporters had been arrested over their links to recent attacks in OPEC’s biggest oil producer.
Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index closed down 1.6 percent in Riyadh.