Monday, July 04, 2016

Suicide Bombings Hit 3 Saudi Cities, One Near a Holy Site
New York Times
JULY 4, 2016

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Bombings rocked three cities across Saudi Arabia on Monday, including near the Prophet’s Mosque in the holy city of Medina, raising the specter of increasingly coordinated attacks by militants seeking to destabilize the monarchy.

A suicide bomber struck near the United States Consulate in the coastal city of Jidda in the morning, wounding two security officers. Then, near dusk, when Muslims were ending their daily Ramadan fasts, other blasts struck near a Shiite mosque in the country’s east and at a security post in Medina, killing four security guards, according to the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television network.

The blasts in Saudi Arabia followed a bloody week in which terrorist attacks caused mass casualties in the largest cities of three predominantly Muslim countries: Turkey, Bangladesh and Iraq.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and in Baghdad, and it is suspected of carrying out the one in Istanbul.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the Saudi bombings, although Islamic State extremists have attacked the kingdom repeatedly in recent years, mostly targeting members of the Shiite minority and state security personnel.

The attacks occurred amid fears that extremists had planned further violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and for the holiday that celebrates its conclusion this week, Eid al-Fitr.

The Medina attack struck the security office of the mosque where the Prophet Muhammad is said to be buried, an important stop for millions of pilgrims who visit the holy cities each year. Four security officers died in the attack, Al Arabiya said, in addition to a suicide bomber.

The other evening attack was near a Shiite mosque in the eastern region of Qatif and killed no one but the bomber, according to witnesses quoted by the Reuters news agency.

The Jidda attack took place when security officers confronted a man acting suspiciously near the United States Consulate. He detonated his explosives, killing himself and wounding two guards, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The United States Embassy in Riyadh, the capital, said in a statement that none of its consular staff members in Jidda had been wounded, and it warned American citizens to limit nonessential travel to the kingdom and to remain cautious inside it.

An attack by Al Qaeda on the consulate in 2004 left five staff members and four gunmen dead.

In neighboring Kuwait, officials announced the arrest of four people accused of plotting two attacks in the country and said they had repatriated a Kuwaiti family who had joined the Islamic State in Syria, according to a statement published by the state-run KUNA news agency.

One of the suspects is a young Kuwaiti man who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and was planning to bomb a mosque during Eid al-Fitr, the report said. The man said after his arrest that he had received instructions from an Islamic State operative abroad, the agency reported, to send a young recruit with no security record to obtain explosives and guns for the attack.

Two Kuwaitis and a man from an unspecified Asian country were arrested in the second plot and were found to have two assault rifles, ammunition and the black flag of the Islamic State, the report said.

Kuwait also said it had arrested and repatriated a Kuwaiti man who had joined the Islamic State in Syria, as well as his mother and son. The man had studied petroleum engineering in Britain and had moved to Syria to work in oil production for the Islamic State after his older brother was killed while fighting for the group in Iraq, the report said.

The report did not say when the arrests had taken place.

Kuwait is a predominantly Sunni country, but Sunnis and Shiites live together with little of the sectarian tensions in other Persian Gulf nations.

An Islamic State suicide attack on a Shiite mosque in Kuwait City killed 27 a year ago. The bomber was a Saudi citizen.

Follow Ben Hubbard on Twitter @NYTBen.

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