DUBAI (Reuters) – Gunmen shot dead at least five people in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province on Tuesday in an attack on Shiite Muslims during one of their most important religious festivals, the state news agency SPA reported.
Nine people were wounded by the unidentified attackers late on Monday night in al-Dalwah village in al-Ahsa district, a police spokesman was quoted as saying.
“As a group of citizens was leaving a building three masked men opened fire at them with machine guns and pistols,” the spokesman said, according to SPA, adding that the incident was under investigation.
It gave no further details. Al-Ahsa is one of the main centres of minority Shiite Muslims in Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, who are now marking Ashoura, the holy day commemorating the death of Imam Hussein with public ceremonies and processions.
A local online newspaper, http://www.hasanews.com/, reported that six people were killed and 12 were wounded, some seriously, in what it called a “terrorist attack” on the ceremonies in the village.
It said police were mobilised into the scene and closed off the area. There was no word on what happened to the attackers.
Videos purporting to show the aftermath of the attack posted to social media showed a body lying in a pool of blood outside a building, with people milling around calling for help. The authenticity of the videos could not immediately be confirmed.
One of the videos showed a man holding spent bullet casings at the bloodstained entrance to what appears to be a Shiite place of worship.
Al-Ahsa and Qatif, another centre of the Saudi Shiite minority, have historically been the focal point of anti-government demonstrations in support of Shiites.
Shiites say they face discrimination in seeking educational opportunities or government employment in the majority Sunni state and that they are referred to disparagingly in text books and by some officials and state-funded clerics.
They also complain of restrictions on setting up places of worship and marking Shiite holidays, and say that Qatif and al-Ahsa receive less state funding than Sunni communities of equivalent size.
The Saudi government denies allegations of discrimination.
A government census in 2001 said there were about a million Saudi Shiites. But US diplomats in a 2008 embassy cable released by WikiLeaks estimated they represent up to 12 percent of the total Saudi population, which now numbers 20 million.