Saudi security foils terror plot targeting Mecca Grand Mosque
Suspect blows himself up as ministry blames ‘evil’ schemes ‘managed from abroad’
Mecca attack: Saudi security forces inspect the site of the foiled terror plot. Photograph: HO/AFP/Getty
Saudi Arabian security forces have foiled a terror plot targeting the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, exchanging gunfire with one of the suspects who blew himself up inside a home on Friday, the interior ministry said.
The ministry described the plot as part of “self-serving schemes managed from abroad”.
Five people, including a woman, were arrested in security operations in Mecca, the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news website said, citing interior-ministry security spokesman Mansour al-Turki. Five security force members and six other people were injured, the report said. Turki said police “foiled the terrorist plan that targeted the security of the Grand Mosque, pilgrims and worshippers”.
In dawn raids on Mecca and the Red Sea city of Jeddah officers arrested suspects before surrounding the bomber’s location close to the Grand Mosque. “Unfortunately he started shooting towards security personnel once he noticed their presence in the area, which led to an exchange of fire before he blew himself up,” Turki said.
The blast partially collapsed the building where he had taken refuge, injuring six pilgrims, Turki said. He added that four had already been released from hospital, and five security men were also slightly hurt.
The interior ministry said it “confirms that this terrorist network, whose terrorist plan was thwarted, violated, in what they would have perpetrated, all sanctities by targeting the security of the Grand Mosque, the holiest place on Earth.
“They obeyed their evil and corrupt self-serving schemes managed from abroad whose aim is to destabilise the security and stability of this blessed country.”
The ministry did not name the group involved in the attack. The ultraconservative Sunni kingdom battled an al-Qaeda insurgency for years and more recently has faced attacks from a local branch of the Islamic State group.
Since late 2014 Saudi Arabia has faced periodic bombings and shootings claimed by Isis. Near the end of Ramadan last year in the Saudi city of Medina four security officers died in an explosion close to Islam’s second holiest site, the Prophet’s Mosque. It was one of three suicide blasts around the kingdom on the same day, in which a total of seven people were believed killed. The others occurred in Jeddah and in the Gulf city of Qatif.
The CIA said those attacks bore the hallmarks of Isis.
Most of the targets in Saudi Arabia have been the Shia minority and security forces, killing dozens of people. The Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has called for attacks against the kingdom, a member of the US-led coalition battling the group in Syria and Iraq.
Since July last year police have arrested around 40 people, including Saudis and Pakistanis, for alleged extremist links.
Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism capabilities, which for years were led by Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, are well-regarded internationally. On Wednesday Prince Mohammed was ousted from his posts of crown prince and interior minister, replaced as heir to the throne by King Salman’s son Mohammed bin Salman.
Friday’s counterterrorist operation was the first to take place under the new interior minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef, who is in his early 30s. Prince Abdulaziz is the nephew of the deposed minister.
The Grand Mosque has been the target of militants before. In 1979 a group seized the mosque, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that Muslims pray toward five times a day, for two weeks as they demanded the royal family abdicate the throne. The official toll of the assault and subsequent fighting to retake the mosque from hundreds of armed militants was over 100 people killed and 500 wounded.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have cut diplomatic ties to neighboring Qatar and are trying to isolate the energy-rich country over its alleged support of militants and ties to Iran. Qatar long has denied those allegations.
Guardian, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press