The endless sectarian bloodshed between militant Islamists continues, with a deadly suicide bomb attack on a Shia mosque in Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia that killed over a dozen people. According to the BBC, the Sunni fanatics of the Islamic State have claimed responsibility for the attack, with a Twitter message that included an image of the bomber.
The attack on the Imam Ali mosque in al-Qadeeh makes good on a standing Islamic State threat to murder Shiite Muslims in Saudi Arabia, issued by “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself.
This is believed to be the first terrorist action carried out by the Saudi branch of ISIS, believed to include a hair-raising 2,000 recruits by security experts. However, it is not the first instance of Sunni extremist violence in the Kingdom. There have been several incidents in the capital of Riyadh recently, and several months ago a gunman killed eight victims in a rampage at a Shiite village.
At roughly the same time, ISIS conducted a similar attack on a Shiite mosque in Yemen, injuring a dozen people but apparently causing no fatalities. Saudi Arabia is currently leading an air campaign against Iran-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen, so ISIS just blew up Shiites in a Sunni country currently engaged in bombing Shiites insurgents who overthrew the Sunni government of another country ISIS wants to take over.
The New York Times, which says the body count from the Saudi mosque bombing has risen to at least 21 dead, sees dangerous opportunities for ISIS in the Saudi sectarian strife inflamed by the war in Yemen. “Members of the Shiite minority, who make up about 15 percent of the population and live mainly in the oil-rich Eastern Province, have long complained of discrimination by Saudi Arabia’s Sunni majority and clerical establishment,” the Times explains.
Sunni imams have been exacerbating those tensions by rallying public support for the Yemen operation “in part by repeatedly denouncing Shiites as dangerous infidels.” On the other hand, the Saudi monarchy’s support for anti-ISIS efforts in Syria and Iraq has irked hardcore Sunni Muslims in the Kingdom, who have defected to join the Islamic State by the thousands.
In addition to vowing that the perpetrators of the Shiite mosque bombing will be brought to justice, the Saudi government took the unusual step of broadcasting a statement from Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Asheikh, the country’s leading Sunni religious authority, denouncing the attack as a “criminal” action against “sons of the homeland.”
Shiite community leader Jafar al-Shayeb did not seem reassured by this statement, saying people felt the mosque bombing “is a direct result of the atmosphere that is turning everybody against each other through speeches and media and social media… it will lead young people to sacrifice themselves and kill others in this region, and people are very angry about it.”
Apparently many Saudis think the mosque bombing might have secretly been the work of Iran, hoping to touch off a sectarian civil war within its regional ally. That’s not an entirely implausible theory – Iran is no stranger to destabilizing its neighbors with terrorist killers – but ISIS also loves to inflame factional tensions and present itself as a unifying Sunni force.