On Friday night, a gunman suspected of working for the Islamic State opened fire on a Shiite mosque in the Saudi city of Qatif, killing five people and injuring nine others.
The attack coincides with the Shiite holiday of Ashura. The Sunni-oriented Islamic State has vowed to cleanse Saudi Arabia, a majority Sunni nation, of Shiite “infidels,” but the Shiite community vowed to continue observing the Ashura holiday.
What appears to be a smartphone video of the shooting, taken outside the mosque where it occurred, has been posted online:
According to an ISIS branch in Syria calling itself the Islamic State of Bahrain Province, the Qatif shooter was one of their “soldiers.” They saluted him for “attacking a Shiite infidel temple with an automatic weapon.”
“Infidels will not be safe in the peninsula of Mohammed,” the group warned, as quoted by Channel NewsAsia. This would be a reference to the presence of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Channel NewsAsia explains the significance of the holiday: “Ashura, which peaks late next week, marks the killing of Imam Hussein, Mohammed’s grandson, by the army of Caliph Yazid in 680 AD. It lies at the heart of Islam’s divide into Shiite and Sunni sects.”
ISIS has been seeking to inflame sectarian tensions in Saudi Arabia, where the Shiite minority is forbidden from building mosques in many areas. As analysts quoted by Channel NewsAsia pointed out, some believe the practice of Shia Islam in Saudi Arabia at all is pushing Sunnis into radicalization. Conversely, the Shiites complain that the Saudi government is not giving them adequate police protection, and have been arranging their own watches and security checkpoints to hold violent attackers at bay.
The Gulf Cooperation Council issued a statement condemning the Qatif attack as a “horrific crime” on Saturday, while the top cleric in Saudi Arabia, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, declared ISIS to be an “enemy of Islam,” saying “there is no good in them.”
One of the Qatif murder victims was a woman, 22-year-old Jafaar al-Abbad, who was about to graduate from medical school as a doctor, according to her uncle. He hailed her as a “martyr”… and said that was “even better” than becoming a doctor.