Four security officers were killed in 4 July 2016’s attacks that targeted U.S. diplomats, Shi’ite Muslim worshippers and a security headquarters at a mosque in the holy city of Medina. The attacks all seem to have been timed to coincide with the approach of the Islamic Eid holiday.
The U.N. human rights chief on Tuesday described the bombing outside the Prophet Mohammed’s Mosque in Medina as “an attack on Islam itself” and many Muslims expressed shock that their second-holiest site had been targeted.
Two of the attacks failed but four people were killed in the third, all of which appear to be coordinated — targeting both Saudi security forces and Western interests.
Saudi authorities say they have arrested seven Saudi nationals and 12 Pakistanis in connection with the recent bomb attacks in the city of Medina and the eastern region of Qatif.
Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry, in a statement released late on Thursday, identified the Medina bomber, who carried out his attack near Masjid al-Nabawi, the second holiest site for Muslims, as 26-year-old Saudi national Na’ir al-Nujiaidi al-Balawi.
The statement added that Balawi, who had a “history of drug use”, crossed a parking lot next to Masjid al-Nabawi and detonated an explosive belt near a security headquarters, leaving four soldiers dead.
“When security guards intercepted him he blew himself up,” an unnamed Interior Ministry spokesman told state-run al-Ikhbariya television news network.
Several cars went up in flames, and thick plumes of black smoke were seen rising from the site of the attack.
Local media say the attacker planned to target the sacred site as thousands had gathered for the sunset prayer on the last day of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The Saudi Interior Ministry further named the three bombers behind an attack outside a Shia mosque in Qatif as Abdulrahman Saleh Mohammed, Ibrahim Saleh Mohammed and Abdelkarim al-Hesni. No civilians or police were wounded in the second Monday attack.
Saudi officials claimed the assailants were all in their early 20s and had earlier taken part in anti-regime rallies.
None of them had obtained Saudi identification cards, and it was not immediately clear what country or countries the trio hailed from.
The Jeddah attacker was a Pakistani man identified as Abdullah Qalzar Khan, a driver who had been living in the city for 12 years, the ministry said earlier.
Militant attacks on Medina are unprecedented. The Prophet Mohammed’s mosque, which was built by him in the 7th century and also houses his tomb, is the second most sacred site in Islam.
“The Saudi king’s tiles include ‘Protector of the two Holy Cities,” said one senior U.S. counterterrorism official. “The message of the attack is that that protection doesn’t exist.”
The kingdom’s two holy cities, Mecca and Medina, are home Islam’s two holiest sites, the Qabba in Mecca, which millions of pilgrims visit every year, and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, which holds Mohammed’s tomb.
Said the counterterrorism official, “If [the royal family] can’t protect those places — and people traveling to those cities from across Islam – it calls in to question the fitness of their ruling power and its legitimacy.”