Saudis take part in Friday prayers..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Top Sunni clerics have condemned Monday’s shooting attack on a Shi’ite village in Saudi Arabia, which officials have blamed on al-Qaida.
Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef visited Eastern Province on Tuesday to offer condolences to bereaved relatives of the victims of the attack. The Saudi Grand Mufti and the Council of Senior Scholars condemned the attack, with the council calling it a “horrendous crime” that “should result in the harshest form of punishment under Islamic law,” the London-based Asharq al-Awsat reported on Wednesday.
“What happened in Al-Ahsa is an example of brutal aggression and a great injustice,” the grand mufti said. “This is carried out by sick minds seeking to incite fitna [civil strife] between people, God forbid.”
“This fitna and evil is being carried out by those who want to do us evil and open the door to sectarian conflict so that we kill and destroy each other,” he said in a TV interview.
Monday’s attack took place in al-Dalwah, located in Eastern Province’s al-Ahsa, an oasis that is home to around half the kingdom’s Shi’ite minority. It prompted a police manhunt that has so far led to 20 arrests and the deaths of three suspects and two policemen in a gunfight.
Sunni jihadists now speak about Shi’ites as a greater enemy to members of their sect than the Western governments that were formerly their most hated foes.
Saudi Arabia has closed down the offices of a religious television channel accused of fomenting sectarian tension after the attack. Wesal TV has long been accused of broadcasting programs against Shi’ites, a minority that lives in the eastern and southwestern areas of mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia. The channel often described Shi’ites as “rejectionists,” a pejorative label which dates back to the seventh-century schism between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam.
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“I have ordered the offices of Wesal channel in Riyadh closed and to ban any broadcast by it in the kingdom,” Saudi Information Minister Abdulaziz Khoja said on his Twitter account on Tuesday evening. “This is essentially not a Saudi channel.”
In a statement carried by state news agency SPA on Wednesday, the royal court said Khoja had been relieved of his post at his request and replaced by the minister for the hajj pilgrimage.
By Wednesday, grief among the villagers was mixed with anger about a culture of sectarianism they say paved the way for the shooting.
With civil wars in Iraq and Syria now being fought along mainly sectarian lines, Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite minority feels increasingly vulnerable in a country where anger is rising among the majority sect at the plight of Sunnis in other countries.
An unidentified high-level security source told Asharq al-Awsat that some members of the terrorist cell have been arrested or convicted of terrorism charges in the past.
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