Saudi Arabia urges calm after day of attacks

The Saudi interior ministry identified the Jeddah bomber as 34-year-old Abdullah Qalzar Khan. It said he lived in Jeddah with “his wife and her parents”.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz and other officials visit a security officer injured in a bomb attack outside the Prophet Mohammed’s Mosque in Medina.  Saudi Press Agency / AP Photo
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RIYADH // Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and anti-terror chief sought on Tuesday to reassure Saudis of the country’s security after suicide attacks targeting Medina, the US consulate in Jeddah and the city of Qatif.

At least four people were killed in the attacks on Monday. No group has claimed responsibility but ISIL has carried out a number of similar bombings in the kingdom in the past year, targeting Shiites and Saudi security forces.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, who is also the Saudi interior minister, visited two security officers and a citizen wounded in the bombing in Jeddah.

“The security of the homeland is good, it is at its highest levels and thanks be to God it gets stronger every day,” the Spa state news agency quoted Prince Mohammed as saying during the visit.

The attacks have rattled Saudis who are preparing to celebrate Eid Al Fitr from Wednesday.

Militant attacks on Medina, home to the Prophet’s Mosque and the second-holiest site in Islam, are unprecedented. The Al Saud ruling family considers itself the protectors of Islam’s holiest sites Medina and Mecca.

Prince Mohammed has been credited for successfully ending a bombing campaign by Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia between 2003-2006.

“I know that terrorist operations are not a simple thing, and the minor impacts that you feel now will go away, God willing,” Prince Mohammed said. “I had been through this in the past and feel what you feel,” he added, referring to a suicide bombing he had survived in his office in 2009.

Saudi security officials say the group’s supporters inside the kingdom mainly act independently, depending on ISIL based in Iraq and Syria for only limited logistical help and advice, making them harder to detect, but also less capable of mounting attacks on well-protected targets.

The Saudi interior ministry on Tuesday identified the suicide bomber who struck near the US consulate in Jeddah as a Pakistani resident who arrived in the country 12 years ago to work as a driver.

A ministry statement identified the man as 34-year-old Abdullah Qalzar Khan. It said he lived in Jeddah with “his wife and her parents”.

There are around 9 million foreigners living in Saudi Arabia, which has a total population of 30 million. Among all foreigners living in the kingdom, Pakistanis represent one of the largest groups.

The Saudi ministry said the attacker set off the bomb in a car park after security officers raised suspicions about him.

The suicide bombing in Medina outside the mosque grounds where the Prophet Mohammed is buried in killed four Saudi security guards and wounded five. Millions of Muslims from around the world visit the mosque every year as part of their pilgrimage to Mecca.

Several cars caught fire and thick plumes of black smoke were seen rising from the site of the explosion as thousands of worshippers crowded the streets around the mosque.

Worshippers expressed shock that such a prominent holy site could be targeted.

“That’s not an act that represents Islam,” said Altayeb Osama, a 25-year old Sudanese visitor to Medina and an Abu Dhabi resident who heard two large booms about a minute apart as he was heading towards the mosque for sunset prayers. “People never imagined that this could happen here.”

The Prophet Mohammed’s mosque was packed on Monday evening with worshippers during the final days of Ramadan. Saudi media said the attacker was intending to strike the mosque when it was crowded with thousands of worshippers gathered for the sunset prayer.

* Associated Press and Reuters

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Saudi Arabia had identified Abdullah Qalzar Khan as being the bomber behind the attack in Medina, rather than Jeddah.