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  1. Suicide bomb blast near mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia

Suicide bomb blast near mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia

State-linked Saudi news websites say an explosion has gone off outside one of Islam's holiest sites in the city of Medina, the same day that two suicide bombers struck different cities in Saudi Arabia.

By: | Updated: July 5, 2016 1:02 AM
Smoke billowing from flames near the mosque in Medina. (Photo: Twitter) Smoke billowing from flames near the mosque in Medina. (Photo: Twitter)

State-linked Saudi news websites reported an explosion Monday near one of Islam’s holiest sites in the city of Medina, as two suicide bombers struck in different cities without killing anyone.

Sabq news site reported the explosion, and other sites showed images of what appeared to be a fire outside one of the buildings overlooking the Prophet’s Mosque. It was not immediately clear if anyone was killed or wounded in the blast.

The sprawling mosque where the Prophet Muhammad is buried is visited by millions of Muslims from around the world each year during pilgrimages to Mecca. The area would have been packed with pilgrims for prayer during the final days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.

Three suicide bombers struck in Saudi Arabia today 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.

Also Read | 3 dead in Saudi Medina blast, including bomber

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 Mecca 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 yesterday 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.

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.

The Interior Ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.

Also Monday evening, a suicide bomber and a car bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia, according to a resident there, several hours after another suicide bomber carried out an attack near the U.S. Consulate in the western city of Jiddah.

The possibility of coordinated, multiple attacks across different cities in Saudi Arabia on the same day underscores the threat the kingdom faces from extremists who view the Western-allied Saudi monarchy as heretics and enemies of Islam. Saudi Arabia is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

The attack in the eastern region of Qatif did not appear to cause any injuries, said resident Mohammed al-Nimr, whose brother is Nimr-al-Nimr, a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric executed in January. He told The Associated Press the bomber detonated his suicide vest when most residents of the neighborhood were at home breaking the daily Ramadan fast.

Qatif is heavily populated by Shiites, who are a minority in the Sunni-ruled kingdom. Al-Nimr said that near the body of a suicide bomber was a car bomb that also went off around the same time.

The IS group’s local affiliates in the kingdom have previously attacked Shiite places of worship, including an attack on a Shiite mosque in Qatif in May 2015 that killed 21 people.

Earlier Monday, the Interior Ministry said a suicide bomber had detonated his explosives when security guards approached him near the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah. The attacker died and the two security men were lightly wounded, according to the ministry statement, which was published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. Some cars in the parking lot were damaged.

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki was quoted in the statement as saying the guards noticed the man was acting suspiciously at an intersection on the corner of the heavily fortified consulate, near a hospital and a mosque.

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia confirmed there were no casualties among consular staff, and said it remains in contact with Saudi authorities as they investigate.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Interior Ministry did not say whether the bomber intended to target the U.S. diplomatic compound, adding that an investigation is underway to determine his identity.

The state-run news channel al-Ekhbariya, quoting the Interior Ministry, said the bomber was not a Saudi citizen, but a resident of the kingdom. It gave no further details on his nationality. There are around 9 million foreigners living in Saudi Arabia, which has a total population of 30 million.

Footage aired on the channel after the attack showed crime scene investigators and police casing the area for evidence and dusting for fingerprints. Al-Ekhbariya said security forces detonated six explosive devices found at the scene.

A 2004 al-Qaida-linked militant attack on the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah killed five locally hired consular employees and four gunmen. The three-hour battle at the compound came amid a wave of al-Qaida attacks targeting Westerners and Saudi security posts.

More recently, Saudi Arabia has been a target of Islamic State attacks that have killed dozens of people. In June, the Interior Ministry reported 26 terror attacks in the kingdom in the last two years.

The U.S. Embassy regularly issues advisory messages for U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia. In a message issued Sunday and another one issued after the attack Monday, the embassy urged Americans to ”remain aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country.” It also advised citizens to ”carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia.”

In neighboring Kuwait on Monday, security forces said they had arrested several suspects with alleged ties to IS, including an 18-year-old man who was planning to attack a Shiite mosque in the final days of Ramadan. Officials did not say when the arrests took place. An IS affiliate claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing carried out by a Saudi man last year in one of Kuwait’s oldest Shiite mosques. That attack killed 27 people.

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