SHAFAQNA – Thousands of mourners joined the funeral on Friday of eight people killed during an unprecedented attack on minority Shiites in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province this week.
Seven of the dead were killed when masked gunmen opened fire on Monday night at a crowd in Al Dalwa town, as Shiites commemorated Ashura, one of their holiest occasions.
An eighth from a neighbouring village was killed by the assailants as they robbed his car to use in the attack.
Mourners poured into Al Dalwa from across Saudi Arabia , according a witness, who said that some also came from neighbouring Bahrain.
Footage of the funeral showed mourners chanting “Sunnis and Shiites, we are brothers! We shall not abandon our homeland.”
Senior Saudi officials denounced the “terrorist” attack, which also led to the deaths of two policemen in a shootout with alleged suspects.
Posters of the dead Sunni policemen were carried at the funeral.
Radical Sunni groups consider Shiites heretics and have targeted them in deadly attacks elsewhere in the region.
The Saudi interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, visited families of the murdered civilians, as well as the wounded in hospital, on Wednesday evening the official Saudi Press Agency said.
The kingdom’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, said such crimes “are against the teachings of Islam and create chaos among the ummah”, or community of believers, SPA reported.
Since 2011 protests and sporadic attacks on security forces have occurred in Shiite areas of Eastern Province, where the minority community complains of marginalisation.
However, Monday’s attack has raised concerns that sectarian violence may escalate, after Saudi Arabia joined the US-led military campaign against the extremist militants group ISIL, which has seized control of large areas in neighbouring Iraq and in Syria.
Saudi authorities have stepped up measures at home against the Al Qaeda breakaway group, which uses social media to recruit foreign fighters, including Saudi citizens.
A Saudi interior ministry spokesman said one of the 15 suspects arrested over Monday’s attack was a Saudi who had spent time outside the country, while local media reported that he fought for Islamist militant groups.
“One of the arrested terrorists was out of the kingdom” and returned across its southern border, General Mansour Al Turki said, without saying when he came back into Saudi Arabia.
“The ongoing investigation will show his terrorist-related activities and groups he was involved with,” Gen Al Turki said.
Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia to the south, is home to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered one of the terror group’s most dangerous branches.
*Source : Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg News