Suicide Bomber Strikes Near Muslim Holy Shrine in Saudi City

medina explosion

The scene of the blast in Medina.

Photographer: Noor Punasiya via AP Photo
  • Four security guards killed in Medina, Interior Ministry says
  • Blast follows deadly suicide attacks from Iraq to Turkey

A suicide bomber blew himself up near one of Islam’s holiest shrines in Saudi Arabia, the third attack in the kingdom on Monday, extending a terrorism wave that has killed scores in the Middle East and beyond over the past two weeks.

The bomber failed to enter the courtyard of the Prophet’s Mosque in the holy city of Medina. He detonated his explosives, killing himself and four security personnel and injuring five others, state-run SPA reported, citing a statement issued by the interior ministry. In the eastern city of Qatif, two attackers blew themselves up outside a Shiite mosque. Earlier, another militant carried out a suicide attack near the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, and neighboring Kuwait bolstered security at its oil installations.

The blasts in the world’s top oil exporter follow a string of attacks in Iraq, Bangladesh and Turkey as Islamic State’s losses mount in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Last month, Iraqi forces retook the city of Fallujah, setting the stage for an offensive on Mosul, Islamic State’s main stronghold in OPEC’s second-biggest producer.

No Limits

“The message they are trying to convey is that we are everywhere and we can reach even the heartland of the Islamic world,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based consulting firm Cornerstone Global Associates. “It’s very worrying because there are no geographical or moral limits to what they can do.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Medina.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for a truck bombing that left more than 150 people dead in a popular commercial street in Baghdad on Sunday, two days after armed men killed 20 hostages in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka. On June 29, more than 40 people were killed when three suicide bombers attacked Istanbul’s main international airport.

The surge in violence also comes after the Sunni extremist group urged followers to stage more attacks in the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which ends this week. “That is likely an element in the increase in attacks,” said Graham Griffiths, an analyst at Control Risks in Dubai.

Multiple Targets

The bomber in Medina approached the area from a parking lot inaccessible to the public. He blew himself up as security guards where breaking their fast, Arabiya reported. Saudi media said there were no civilians among the casualties.

“This is the first time that an extremist group attacked multiple targets with suicide bombers in the kingdom,” said Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington. “Although smallish, these events show that Daesh has the ability to operate beneath the radar in a county where counter-terrorism efforts are vigilant,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Throughout Saudi Arabia’s battle with radical Sunni militants, attacks on major holy sites have been rare. In 1979, a group of gunmen briefly seized control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Like al-Qaeda, Islamic State and its followers accuse the Al Saud ruling family of siding with Western powers in a war on Islam.

Kuwait’s Plot

In Kuwait, the government raised security to the maximum level at its oil facilities, the state-run Kuna news agency reported. The suspects in custody had intended to target a Shiite mosque and one of the Interior Ministry’s facilities with suicide bombs at the end of Ramadan, Kuna said, citing an Interior Ministry statement. One of the suspects is a Kuwaiti policeman.

Islamic State followers have staged several attacks against Shiite Muslims, security forces and Western individuals in Saudi Arabia and other targets in the Gulf over the past two years. In June last year, a Saudi-born man blew himself up in a mosque during the weekly Friday prayers in Kuwait, killing more than two dozen worshipers.

The six countries making up the Gulf Cooperation Council provide almost a quarter of global oil supplies. Energy assets in the region and major facilities in Iraq have been spared.

“The Medina attack carries symbolism,” Karasik said. “Although not on par with the 1979 siege of Mecca, Islamic State is trying to raise doubts about the Al Saud’s legitimacy and custodianship of the Holy Mosques.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE