Interior ministry announces it has arrested more than 400 people and thwarted suicide bomb attack on mosque in east of country as bomb kills 115 in Iraq
The Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has said that it has broken up planned Islamic State attacks in the kingdom and arrested more than 400 suspects in an anti-terrorism sweep, a day after a powerful blast in neighbouring Iraq killed more than 100 people in one of the country’s deadliest single attacks since US troops pulled out in 2011.
The Saudi crackdown underscores its growing concern about the threat posed by the Isis, which in addition to its operations in Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility for recent suicide bombings aimed at Shias in the kingdom’s oil-rich east and in neighbouring Kuwait.
The Saudi interior ministry accused those arrested over the past few weeks of involvement in several attacks, including a suicide bombing in May that killed 22 people in the eastern village of al-Qadeeh. It was the deadliest militant assault in the kingdom in more than a decade.
It blamed them for the November shooting and killing of eight worshippers in the eastern Saudi village of al-Ahsa, and for being behind another attack in late May, when a suicide bomber disguised as a woman blew himself up in the parking lot of a Shia mosque during Friday prayers, killing four.
The interior ministry said that in June it thwarted a suicide bomb attack on a large mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia that can hold 3,000 worshippers, along with multiple planned attacks on other mosques and diplomatic and security bodies.
Those arrested included suspects behind a number of militant websites used in recruiting, the ministry said.
Saudi Arabia branded Isis a terrorist organisation last year and has joined the US-led coalition targeting it in Syria and Iraq. Authorities have vowed to punish those responsible for terrorist attacks inside the kingdom, the Arab world’s largest economy.
Dubai-based geopolitical analyst Theodore Karasik said the arrests were aimed in part at reassuring the country’s Shia minority, who have long complained of discrimination in the kingdom, which is governed by an ultraconservative interpretation of Sunni Islam.
“It sends a message that the ministry of interior is not losing a grip and wraps up the potential nodes of Daesh recruits in the kingdom,” he said, using an alternate name for the group.
In Iraq, authorities said at least 115 people, including women and children, were killed in Friday night’s attack on a crowded marketplace in Iraq’s eastern Diyala province. The mostly-Shia victims were gathered to mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ended on Friday for Iraqi Shia and a day earlier for Iraqi Sunni Muslims.
Police said a small truck detonated in a crowded marketplace in the town of Khan Beni Saad. At least 170 people were wounded in the attack, police officials said. Isis claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on Twitter accounts associated with the militants.
Iraq’s speaker of parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, said on Saturday that the attack had struck an “ugly sectarian chord,” and added that government was making “attempts to regulate Daesh’s terror from destabilising Diyala security.”
A number of towns were captured by the extremists in the province last year. Iraqi forces and Kurdish fighters have since retaken those areas, but clashes between the militants and security forces continue.
Security forces were out in full force across Diyala on Saturday, with dozens of new checkpoints and security protocols immediately put in place.
Meanwhile, reports emerged Saturday that Isis used projectile-delivered poison gas against Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria on several occasions last month.
Joint onsite investigations by two UK-based organisations Conflict Armament Research and Sahan Research concluded that Isis forces used chemical agents delivered through what appears to be locally manufactured shells to attack Iraqi peshmerga forces and Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, also known as the YPG, on 21, 22 and 28 June.
“The three attacks are the first documented use by IS forces of projectile-delivered chemical agents against Kurdish forces and civilian targets,” the report said.
In the Syria attacks, Isis militants launched 17 artillery projectiles against YPG forces stationed to the south of the village of Tell Brak in Hassakeh province. The projectiles released a chemical agent which induced in some cases loss of consciousness and temporary, localized paralysis. Twelve YPG personnel were hospitalised. Another seven projectiles were also launched into civilian residential areas in Hassakeh.
In the Iraq attack, Islamic State forces fired a projectile containing a liquid chemical agent at a peshmerga checkpoint near the Mosul Dam, triggering symptoms among the Iraqi forces that included headaches, nausea and light burns to the skin.
The findings on the attacks in Syria were confirmed by an YPG statement issued Saturday. The exact type of chemical used is not known.
“Although these chemical attacks appear to be test cases, we expect IS construction skills to advance as rapidly as they have for other bombs,” said Emmanuel Deisser, Sahan’s managing director.