Bomber planning to attack Mecca’s Grand Mosque blows himself up

VIDEO: REUTERS
Muslim worshippers pray at the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, June 23, 2017.
Muslim worshippers pray at the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, June 23, 2017.PHOTO: AFP
Burned out debris at the scene of a foiled terrorist attack in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 23, 2017.
Burned out debris at the scene of a foiled terrorist attack in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 23, 2017. PHOTO: EPA
A damaged car is seen as Saudi officials inspect the scene of a foiled terrorist attack in Mecca.
A damaged car is seen as Saudi officials inspect the scene of a foiled terrorist attack in Mecca.PHOTO: EPA
Debris at the scene of a foiled terrorist attack in Mecca.
Debris at the scene of a foiled terrorist attack in Mecca.PHOTO: EPA

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AFP) – Six foreign pilgrims were hurt on Friday (June 23) in Saudi Arabia when a suicide bomber targeting Islam’s holiest site of Mecca blew himself up, the Interior Ministry said.

The incident happened around the Grand Mosque, where hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered for early afternoon prayers on the last Friday of this year’s Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month.  

Ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki told Saudi television that police “foiled the terrorist plan that targeted the security of the Grand Mosque, pilgrims and worshippers.”

In dawn raids on Mecca and the Red Sea city of Jeddah officers arrested five suspects, including a woman, before surrounding the bomber’s location around the Grand Mosque.  

“Unfortunately he started shooting towards security personnel once he noticed their presence in the area, which led to an exchange of fire before he blew himself up,” Turki said.  

The blast partially collapsed the building where he had taken refuge, injuring the six pilgrims, Turki said.  

He added that four had already been released from hospital, and five security men were also slightly hurt.  

Since late 2014 Saudi Arabia has faced periodic bombings and shootings claimed by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.

Purported images from the scene that circulated on social media showed an alley filled with bricks and other debris apparently from a blast.  

Video showed what appeared to be a bearded man’s head lying among rubble from a collapsed structure.

Counter-terrorism capabilities

The incident happened with hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered at the Grand Mosque for early afternoon prayers on the last Friday of this year’s Ramadan.

Near the end of Ramadan last year in the Saudi city of Medina four security officers died in an explosion close to Islam’s second holiest site, the Prophet’s Mosque.

It was one of three suicide blasts around the kingdom on the same day, in which a total of seven people were believed killed. The others occurred in Jeddah and in the Gulf city of Qatif. 

The US Central Intelligence Agency said those attacks bore the hallmarks of ISIS.

Most attacks in Saudi Arabia have targeted the Shi'ite minority and security forces, killing dozens of people.

 

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has called for attacks against the kingdom, a member of the US-led coalition battling the group in Syria and Iraq.

 

Since July last year, police have arrested around 40 people, including Saudis and Pakistanis, for alleged extremist links.

 

Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism capabilities – which for years were led by Prince Mohammed bin Nayef – are well-regarded internationally.

On Wednesday, Prince Mohammed was ousted from his posts of crown prince and interior minister, replaced as heir to the throne by King Salman’s son Mohammed bin Salman.

Friday’s counter-terrorist operation was the first to take place under the new interior minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef, who is in his early 30s.

Prince Abdulaziz is the nephew of the deposed minister.