Saudi police foil terror attack on Grand Mosque in Mecca

Saudi officials inspecting a collapsed building in Mecca last Friday after a suicide bomber blew himself up.
Saudi officials inspecting a collapsed building in Mecca last Friday after a suicide bomber blew himself up.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Muslim worshippers praying at the Kaaba at Mecca's Grand Mosque last Friday. Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry said a terrorist attack had been planned against the mosque.
Muslim worshippers praying at the Kaaba at Mecca's Grand Mosque last Friday. Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry said a terrorist attack had been planned against the mosque.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MECCA • Saudi Arabian police last Friday foiled a "terrorist action" against Islam's holiest site, where millions of faithful from around the world have gathered, the state Al-Ekhbaria news channel said.

Citing the Ministry of the Interior, it said 11 people were injured in the collapse of a three-storey building, where a suicide bomber had barricaded himself and detonated explosives. Five of the injured were policemen, while the six others were foreign pilgrims.

The ministry said a wider plot had been foiled with the arrest of five suspects earlier in the day.

It added that a terrorist attack had been planned against Mecca's Grand Mosque, where Muslims from around the world have converged for the conclusion of the holy Ramadan fasting month.

Muslims in Singapore celebrate Hari Raya Puasa today.

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

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.

Near the end of Ramadan last year in the Saudi city of Medina, four people 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, and which the US Central Intelligence Agency said bore the hallmarks of ISIS.

In the latest case, the authorities confronted militants in three places, The New York Times reported - one in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah and two in Mecca.

After refusing to surrender, a suicide bomber traded fire with security forces and then set off explosives after they surrounded him in a house near the Grand Mosque, Reuters reported.

Bystanders and security officers were injured when the house collapsed.

The Interior Ministry did not say whether the militants belonged to a specific group or what their ultimate target was.

But ISIS has harshly criticised Saudi Arabia and carried out a number of deadly attacks in the kingdom in recent years.

A successful militant attack in Mecca would be a blow to Saudi Arabia, which derives legitimacy in the Muslim world for its stewardship of the holy sites and whose monarch bears the title "custodian of the two holy mosques", meaning those in Mecca and Medina.

The two cities are Islam's holiest, and Mecca's Grand Mosque houses the Kaaba, the black cube towards which the world's Muslims pray.

Security officials in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have been on alert in recent days, worried that militants could stage attacks during the final days of the fasting month of Ramadan, which ends this weekend, or during the holiday that follows.

Iran yesterday condemned the suicide bombing and offered Saudi Arabia its assistance in tackling terrorism despite their severed ties.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 25, 2017, with the headline 'Saudi police foil terror attack on Grand Mosque in Mecca'. Print Edition | Subscribe