A suicide bombing during midday prayer at a Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia may be a sign that Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the sectarian conflict in Yemen may be escalating tensions at home. The bombing took place in the town of Al Qudaih, near Qatif, the regional center. The Saudi Health Ministry said at least 21 people had been killed and more than 120 others injured. Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, said in an interview that investigators were examining DNA samples and other evidence to establish the identity of the bomber.
Saudi Arabia’s has waged a two-month air campaign against the Houthi movement in Yemen. The Houthis practice a form of Shiite Islam and receives backing from Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival. The news media in Saudi Arabia has portrayed the Houthis as proxies of Shiite-led Iran and said that the campaign in Yemen is a vital defense against an Iranian incursion. News commentators and imams at Sunni mosques have frequently rallied the public around the war by denouncing Shiites as dangerous infidels.
Members of the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia have long complained of insults and discrimination by Saudi Arabia’s Sunni majority and its clerical establishment. The Shiite minority makes up about 15 percent of the country’s population and live mainly in the Eastern Province. Sectarian violence has been a longstanding issue in the Eastern Province, which contains much of the country’s oil but lags far behind other regions in economic development.
The Islamic State extremist group, which has seized control of much of Syria and Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the attack. It remains unclear whether the attack was initiated independently by a Saudi sympathizer, planned by Islamic State leaders, or merely claimed opportunistically after the fact. General Turki said Saudi officials had blamed the Islamic State for an attack on Shiites in the same area last fall, although the group did not claim responsibility.