Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for bombings that killed worshippers at two Shiite mosques Friday, one in Yemen and one in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi suicide bombing, which took place near the eastern city of Qatif, targeted members of Saudi Arabia’s small Shiite population. Nineteen people died and over 100 were injured in the blast. It struck early in the midday prayer service on Friday, a time when mosques are bustling with devout Muslims, and marks Islamic State’s first attack in the country.
Shiites are often viewed with suspicion by Saudi society and government, for their distinctiveness in a heavily Sunni country and for their religious ties to Saudi Arabia’s chief geopolitical rival Iran. Some Saudi Shiites claim that law enforcement and employers systematically discriminate against them for their religion.
Islamic State, on the other hand, has singled out Shiites for elimination worldwide but especially in the Arabian Peninsula. It also sees Saudi Arabia, which it calls the “Land of the Two Shrines” for its significance to Islamic history, as an illegitimate regime whose presence desecrates the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. (RELATED: Newly Released Tape Of ISIS Top Leader: ‘Islam Is The Religion Of War’)
Islamic State channels online referred to the suicide bomber by the name Abu Amer al-Najdi, identifying him as a native of Saudi Arabia’s overwhelmingly Sunni central heartland. The press release claimed that 250 people were injured in the “blessed attack,” calling the Shiite victims “impure” people who were “committing idolatry against God.”
Around the same time, according to Islamic State’s online releases, “a platoon of the Caliphate’s soldiers” planted the bomb in a Shiite mosque in Yemen. Thirteen worshipers were injured when it exploded, leaving two in critical condition.
A Saudi-led Sunni alliance has led airstrikes and other military maneuvers in Yemen for nearly two months. Their goal is to oust the Shiite rebels, called Houthis, who forced President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee the country in March. The Houthis are also said to have ties to Iran, though the extent of Iranian influence over the group is disputed. (RELATED: Saudis Ignore US, Ignore Iran, Continue Pulverizing Yemen)
Both attacks take place against a backdrop of intense rivalry and competition between Islamic State and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based franchise of the international terrorist network al-Qaida. While AQAP has perpetrated attacks in Yemen for years, Islamic State announced its presence in the country in April, taking advantage of the general instability there arising from the civil war and Saudi-led attacks.
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