RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) — A deadly suicide bombing near Islam’s second-holiest site in the Saudi city of Medina sparked condemnation across the Muslim world Tuesday, with even the Taliban and Hezbollah denouncing the attack.
Four Saudi security personnel were killed and five others were wounded in the suicide bombing that took place as Muslim prepared for this week’s Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The attack near the mosque — believed to be the traditional burial place of the prophet Mohammed and which attracts millions of pilgrims each year — was one of three in the Sunni-ruled kingdom on Monday.
There were no claims of responsibility for the bombings in Medina, Jeddah and the eastern city of Qatif, but the Islamic State group had urged its supporters to carry out attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The Sunni extremists have claimed or been blamed for a wave of shootings and bombings during Ramadan, including in Orlando, Bangladesh, Istanbul and Baghdad.
The Saudi interior ministry said officers became suspicious of a man heading for the mosque through a parking lot.
“As they tried to stop him, he blew himself up with an explosive belt causing his death and the death of four police,” it said, adding five others were wounded.
The targeting of Medina caused shock and outrage across Islam’s religious divide.
Shiite power Iran called for Muslim unity and the Afghan Taliban branded it “gruesome”.
“There are no more red lines left for terrorists to cross. Sunnis, Shi’ites will both remain victims unless we stand united as one,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.
The Taliban said it “condemns this incident in the strongest of terms and considers it an act of enmity and hatred towards Islamic rituals.”
Lebanon-based Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah also denounced it as “a new sign of the terrorists’ contempt for all that Muslims consider sacred.”
Attack on Islam itself
The United Nations said it was an attack on all Muslims.
“The significance of this attack cannot simply be measured in terms of the four policemen who were reported to have been killed, and the physical damage. It is an attack on the religion itself,” said UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville.
The head of the Saudi Shura Council, Saudi Arabia’s main government advisory body, called it “unprecedented”.
“This crime, which causes goosebumps, could not have been perpetrated by someone who had an atom of belief in his heart,” said Abdullah al-Sheikh.
Cairo-based Al-Azhar, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, stressed “the sanctity of the houses of God, especially the Prophet’s Mosque.”
Middle East expert Madhawi al-Rasheed said the attack appeared aimed at humiliating Saudi Arabia, the guardian of Islam’s holiest sites.
“It’s an attempt to actually embarrass the Saudi government because it boasts of protecting the pilgrims and the holy places,” said Rasheed, a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore.
Pakistani behind Jeddah attack
At the same time as the Medina attack, another suicide bombing occurred near a Shiite mosque across the country in the Shiite-populated Gulf city of Qatif.
The interior ministry said “the body parts of three people were found” at the site but had not yet been identified.
Monday’s first attack happened in the western Saudi city of Jeddah, where two police officers were wounded in a suicide bombing near the US consulate.
The ministry said the Jeddah attack was carried out by 35-year-old Abdullah Qalzar Khan, a Pakistani who had been living in the city for 12 years.
The US embassy in Riyadh reported no casualties among consulate staff in the attack, which coincided with the US July 4 Independence Day holiday.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the interior minister, said on a visit to wounded policemen in Jeddah that the attacks “will only increase our solidarity and make us stronger”.
Since late 2014 a series of bombings and shootings claimed by IS in Saudi Arabia has targeted minority Shi’ites as well as members of the security forces, killing dozens.
Most attacks have been in Eastern Province, home to the majority of Shi’ites in the Gulf state.
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.
IS spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani had in late May urged the group’s supporters to carry out attacks