Saudi Cleric on Islamic State Hit List Wounded in Philippines

PHILIPPINES, Zamboanga : This screen grab taken from video on March 1, 2016 shows medical personnel transferring Saudi preacher Sheikh Aaidh al-Qarni (C) into hospital in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga after he was wounded during an assassination attempt after giving an address at a university. Philippine authorities were …

Sheikh Aaidh al-Qarni, a renowned cleric from Saudi Arabia who is on the Islamic State’s (ISIS/ISIL) hit list, was shot and wounded in the Philippines at the beginning of this month.

Saudi diplomat Sheikh Turki Assaegh was also wounded in an assassination attempt on March 1, as both victims left the Western Mindanao State University in the southern port city of Zamboanga, where the cleric delivered an address.

“The gunman was killed by the Filipino police escorts of the two wounded Saudis and two suspects who were seen with the gunman were arrested,” reports the online news outlet

“Qarni suffered gunshot wounds to the right shoulder, left arm and chest while Assaegh, a religious attache at the Saudi Embassy in Manila, was wounded in his right thigh and left leg, according to a police report,” adds the report.

Saudi media revealed that Qarni, a prominent senior Islamic scholar, has more than 12 million followers on Twitter.

In his book Awakening Islam, French academic Stephane Lacroix listed the cleric as one of “the most famous” Saudi preachers.

In the latest issue of ISIS’s propaganda magazine Dabiq, leaders of the jihadist group urged “lone wolves” to attack Qarni and several other Saudi clerics whom they accused of apostasy. quotes Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose as saying that Saudi Arabia has “asked local police for increased security for its embassy in Manila, as well as for the Saudi national airline due to an unspecified threat.”

The failed attempt to assassinate the Saudi cleric was caught on television, showing the hooded attacker firing at the sheikh from close range, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).

AFP notes:

The gunman walked toward Sheikh Aaidh al-Qarni’s car on Tuesday night as he was leaving a packed auditorium in the southern port city of Zamboanga, where he had given a lecture.

The assailant hid behind a crowd seeking selfies with a smiling Qarni as his vehicle slowly rolled out of the venue, footage on local station Mensahe TV showed.

Qarni’s police escorts reportedly killed the assailant.

Identification documents found on the attacker suggest he is “a 21-year-old student, though police said they were not ruling out forgery,” points out AFP.

Chief Inspector Helen Galvez, spokeswoman for the Zamboanga police, reportedly indicated that “investigators are looking at the possibility that the attack was influenced by [ISIS], but there was no evidence to show that yet.”

“As of now, we don’t have any conclusions on their group affiliations,” she told AFP.

A special Filipino police unit investigating the case has requested a month to determine the affiliation of the suspects, who live on the outskirts of Zamboanga, a port city that is frequently targeted by jihadists.