CLOSE CALL Suicide attacker blows himself up after shootout, five arrested
RIYADH/TEHRAN: Saudi security forces on Saturday said they disrupted a plot to attack the Grand Mosque at Mecca, home to the holiest site in Islam, just as the fasting month of Ramzan concludes.
The interior ministry said it launched raids in Jiddah province, as well as two areas in Mecca itself, including the Ajyad Al-Masafi neighbourhood, located near the Grand Mosque.
There, police said they engaged in a shootout at a threestory house a suicide bomber, who blew himself up and led to the building’s collapse. He was killed while the blast wounded six foreigners and five members of security forces, according to the ministry’s statement. Five others were arrested, it said.
Saudi state television aired footage after the raid near the Grand Mosque, showing police and rescue personnel running through the neighbourhood’s narrow streets. The blast demolished the building, its walls crushing a parked car as what appeared to be shrapnel and bullet holes peppered nearby structures.
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 destabilize the security and stability of this blessed country,” the statement said.
The ministry did not name the group involved in the attack. The ultraconservative Sunni kingdom battled an al-Qaida insurgency for years and recently has faced attacks from a local branch of the Islamic State group.
The disrupted attack comes at a sensitive time in Saudi Arabia as King Salman earlier this week short-circuited the kingdom’s succession by making his son, defence minister Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to the throne.
The Grand Mosque has been the target of militants before. In 1979, a group of militants seized the mosque, home to the cubeshaped Kaaba that Muslims pray toward five times a day, for two weeks as they demanded the royal family abdicate the throne. The official toll of the assault and subsequent fighting to retake the mosque from hundreds of armed militants was over 100 people killed and 500 wounded.
IRAN, QATAR VOICE SUPPORT FOR SAUDI
Both Iran and Qatar on Saturday voiced support for Saudi Arabia, 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.
He called on all nations to “be cautious” and said that Iran is ready to help other countries in confronting militants.
The Qatari foreign ministry expressed “solidarity with the brotherly kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah too condemned the incident.