Riyadh (AFP) – Three suicide bombers struck in Saudi Arabia on Monday in a rare incidence of multiple attacks in the kingdom where the Islamic State group has previously staged deadly attacks.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
The latest explosion occurred at one of Islam’s three holiest sites, the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina in the kingdom’s west where Mohammed is buried, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel reported.
Other blasts occurred in the Red Sea city of Jeddah near the US consulate and in Shiite-dominated Qatif on the other side of the country.
The interior ministry said two security officers were wounded in the Jeddah bombing.
Residents of Qatif said only the bomber died in that attack, blowing his body apart near a Shiite mosque.
Al-Arabiya said the Medina incident occurred during sunset prayers after which Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan, which ends Tuesday.
It showed images of fire raging in a security forces parking lot with at least one body nearby.
The Prophet’s Mosque is particularly crowded during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is supposed to be a time of charity but has seen spectacular attacks around the region.
Sunni extremists from IS claimed, or weer blamed for, a suicide bombing in Baghdad on Sunday that killed more than 200 people as well as other attacks in Bangladesh and at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.
At about the same time as the Medina blast, another bomber killed himself in Qatif, residents there said.
“Suicide bomber for sure. I can see the body” torn apart, said one witness to the attack in Qatif.
Nasima al-Sada, another resident, told AFP that “one bomber blew himself up near the mosque”, frequented by Shiites in downtown Qatif on the Gulf coast.
No bystanders were hurt, she said.
Another witness, who gave his name only as Ayman, told AFP there were two explosions near the mosque.
“One of them was from a car parked outside the mosque and in which there was a man who was, unusually, not joining the prayer,” Ayman said.
Pictures said to be from the scene and circulated by residents showed a small fire burning in the street, severed limbs and what appeared to be a severed head.
– Bombings, shootings –
Since late 2014 a series of bombings and shootings claimed by IS in Saudi Arabia has targeted minority Shiites as well as members of the security forces, killing dozens of people.
Most of the attacks have been staged in Eastern Province, home to the majority of Shiites in the Sunni-majority Gulf state.
Monday’s first bombing, near the US consulate in Jeddah, was carried out not by a Saudi but by a “resident foreigner,” General Mansour al-Turki, the interior ministry spokesman, told Al-Arabiya.
Millions of expatriates, many from Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East and Asia, work in the kingdom.
Turki told state Al-Ekhbaria news channel that the suspect, in his 30s, was closer to a mosque in the area than to the American consulate.
“Investigations (are) ongoing to find out the goals and motives of the bomber,” said Turki.
He also said on the news channel’s Twitter account that “devices that failed to explode (were) found in the vicinity of the site”.
The American embassy in Riyadh reported no injuries among US consulate staff.
The interior ministry said security personnel became suspicious of the man near the parking lot of a hospital which is across from the US diplomatic mission.
When they moved in to investigate at around 2:15 am (2315 GMT Sunday) the man “blew himself up with a suicide belt”, the ministry said.
A picture carried by the Sabq online newspaper, which is close to authorities, showed a large body part lying on the ground between a taxi and the open door of another car that was peppered with holes.
The attack coincided with the July 4 Independence Day holiday in the United States.
“The US embassy and consulate remain in contact with the Saudi authorities as they investigate the incident,” it added, urging Americans to “take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country”.
IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has called for attacks on Saudi Arabia, which is taking part in the US-led coalition bombing the jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
The group also considers Shiites to be heretics.
Despite the upsurge in attacks against Saudis, foreigners have rarely been targeted in recent years.