KUWAIT CITY // At least 25 people were killed and hundreds woundeds when a suicide bomber struck a Shiite mosque in the Kuwaiti capital during Friday prayers, in an unprecedented attack claimed by ISIL.
The interior ministry said that 202 people had been wounded in a “terrorist bombing” at the Al Imam Al Sadeq mosque, in a statement cited by the official Kuna news agency.
The wounded were admitted to five public hospitals and visited by prime minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Sabah.
An ISIL affiliate in Saudi Arabia claimed the assault, which was the first bombing of a Shiite mosque in Kuwait and also the first “terrorist” attack in the country since January 2006.
The group, calling itself Najd Province, said militant Abu Suleiman Al Muwahhid bombed the mosque which it claimed was spreading Shiite teachings among Sunni Muslims.
ISIL, an extremist Sunni group, considers Shiites to be heretics.
Najd Province has claimed similar bombings at Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia in recent weeks.
UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, condemned Friday’s attack in the strongest possible terms, stressing the full support of the UAE leadership, government and people for the sisterly state of Kuwait, the UAE’s state news agency Wam reported.
The bombing was also condemned by the Arab parliament, Wam said.
“Such terrorist acts that seek to destabilise the Arab world’s security are backed by those who bear hostility against the Arab and Islamic nation,” said speaker Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Jarwan.
“They will never succeed in creating a wedge in Kuwait and the Arab world’s ranks.”
Al Azhar, a leading Sunni Muslim institution based in Egypt, also condemned the attack, while the Gulf Cooperation Council – of which Kuwait is a member – called the bombing an attempt to undermine national unity and the stability of its members.
The top cleric at the Al Imam Al Sadeq mosque, Abdullah Al Mazeedi, told Kuna that the bombing targeted the rear rows of worshippers who numbered around 2,000 altogether.
He said the blast damaged the interior and caused several chandeliers to fall.
Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, immediately visited the site, and footage on state-run television showed him visibly moved by the scenes of carnage.
The “criminal attack is a desperate and evil attempt targeting Kuwait’s national unity”, he later said.
Kuwait’s cabinet went into emergency session as the interior ministry raised the alert level and mobilised all security forces.
A number of hospitals in the country also declared states of emergency to deal with the wounded, and the central blood bank appealed for donations.
Kuwaiti Shiites make up around one third of the country’s native population of 1.3 million people.
The interior ministry said it has launched a full investigation into the incident.
Three weeks ago, the ministry said it had raised the level of security around mosques following the bombings in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
The attack was widely condemned throughout Kuwait.
Parliament speaker Marzouk Al Ghanem described the bombing as “black terror”, adding that the unity of Kuwaitis would foil any plot.
The two mainstream Sunni groups, the Islamic Constitutional Movement and the Islamic Salaf Alliance, also denounced the attack, with the latter saying: “The Islamic Salaf Alliance strongly deplores this heinous crime which is carried out only by traitors.”
Meanwhile, the ICM, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, decried the bombing as a “low criminal attack targeting the mosque”.
Kuwait’s leading Sunni cleric, Sheikh Ajeel Al Nashmi, said on Twitter that the bombing was a “criminal act aimed at sowing seeds of discord, and undoubtedly Shiites and Sunnis will foil the terrorists’ plot”.
Independent MP Sultan Al Shemmari called on the government to “hit the terrorists with an iron fist”.
Over the past few weeks, Kuwaiti courts have tried a number of people on charges of belonging to ISIL and sentenced at least one to several years in jail.
* Agence France-Presse