The Associated Press reports thousands of Shiites filled the streets in Saudi Arabia on Saturday to mourn the latest fatality from a pair of ISIS bomb attacks against Shiite mosques in the Kingdom.
The latest victim to succumb to his wounds was Mansour Fateel, the 22nd person to die from the first of the two Islamic State (ISIS) attacks, perpetrated on May 22 in the village of al-Qudeeh. Three additional victims were killed in the second bombing on Friday, which was kept from becoming a bloodbath because the bomber was intercepted outside the targeted mosque.
Mourners beat their chests during the funeral procession and carried a banner which read, “Our martyrs are our great ones; our martyrs are our glory; our martyrs are the children of Hussein.” The AP explains that the latter is a reference to a Shiite saint.
Saudi Shiites are doing more than mourning their dead. The Financial Times reports Shiites are forming civil-defense units, which have already seized individuals suspected of preparing to carry out further attacks and handed them over to Saudi security forces.
According to the Financial Times, nothing comparable to these new civil defense units has ever been created by the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia before. It is a development bound to make the government nervous, although exiled Saudi activist Hamza al-Hassan said these were volunteer “self-defense” forces organized by Shiite citizens who felt the government’s security measures were inadequate, not a “political issue” intended to make trouble for the monarchy.
The Saudi government is likely to interpret the assertion that they are not doing enough to protect Shiites as a political statement, especially if they develop into armed militia groups, similar to the Shiite forces battling ISIS in Iraq. Saudi police have already detained several members of the new Shiite civil defense groups, in addition to launching an anti-ISIS crackdown similar to a successful effort they conducted against al-Qaeda in the mid-2000s.
Rising tensions between the Sunni government and Shiite minority are exactly what ISIS wants; they must be pleased to see the government detaining members of vigilante groups formed by angry Shiite citizens who say they cannot trust the police to protect them. Already a great deal of sectarian tension existed in Saudi Arabia for the Islamic State to work with.
CBS News notes that, in its public pronouncements, ISIS has taken to dividing Saudi Arabia into a mixture of warring Sunni and Shiite provinces, portraying itself as the champion of the Sunni cause. The Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the latest mosque bombing described the targeted Shiite mosque as “an evil gathering of those filth in front of one of their shrines in Dammam,” and urged Sunnis to “purify the land of the two shrines from the atheist rafida” – a derogatory term for Shiites, meaning “rejectionists,” which the Financial Times notes is popping up in Saudi social media quite a bit these days.
Another point of tension between Shiites and the Saudi government has been the latter’s reluctance to officially identify the three victims in the latest bomb attack, which also killed the ISIS bomber. Arab News says the bodies have not been handed over to relatives because the “identification process” is still under way, with sources explaining to local media that “such was the intensity of the blast that the victims’ bodies were charred beyond recognition and some were completely dismembered; DNA testing seems to be the only way to recognize them.”
The families of the slain are quite certain of their identities (a college student returned home from studies in America to get married, his brother, and their cousin), but there are suspicions the Saudi government does not want to admit that three Shiite youths serving as volunteer security for the mosque intercepted the bomber and prevented a horrific atrocity by keeping him away from the 150 soft targets worshiping inside.
The mother of one victim spoke up for unity against the ISIS assault: “We are targeted to forget that we are Muslims and have the same Qibla. We should not drift away by such attempts to alienate us.”
Arab News also reported Monday morning that “commercial complexes in Alkhobar have been put on alert, following social media messages containing warnings of a possible attack on the city,” while the American embassy has “reportedly warned its citizens to be alert, especially during weekends, and not to venture out unless necessary.”