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Gunmen Kill 5 in Eastern Saudi Arabia

Gunmen opened fire on a group of people in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, killing at least five in an apparent sectarian attack directed at the kingdom's Shi'ite minority, the state news agency and witnesses said Tuesday.

The official Saudi Press Agency said the attack, which also left nine others wounded, happened late Monday in al-Dalwah village in al-Ahsa district, a police spokesman was quoted as saying.

The area is one of the main centers for Saudi Arabia's minority Shi'ite community.

“As a group of citizens was leaving a building ... three masked men opened fire at them with machine guns and pistols,” a police spokesman said, according to SPA, adding that the incident was under investigation.

No details

It provided no further details on the identities of the attackers or the victims, and said an investigation is underway.

Witnesses said the attack happened inside a Shi'ite shrine as worshippers were marking Ashoura, the holy day commemorating the death of Prophet Mohammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, with public ceremonies and processions. It is a day revered by Shi'ites.

Sunni militants in neighboring Iraq frequently target Shi'ites, whom they consider heretics, during the holiday.

The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.

Iraq on alert

In Iraq on Tuesday, Shi'ite Muslims gathered at shrines and mosques across the country for the Ashura religious ritual as Iraqi security forces were on alert for possible attacks that have inflicted mass casualties during past pilgrimages.

The presence of ultra-hardline Islamic State militants in the country who swept through the north raises the possibility of wider bloodshed this year as crowds swell into the millions.

The Islamic State group, seen as more ruthless than its predecessor in Iraq, al-Qaida, believes Shi'ites are infidels who deserve to be killed and the group has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings against members of the majority sect.

Security for the event has been tight since suspected al-Qaida suicide bombers and mortar attacks killed 171 people during Ashura - an event that defines Shi'ism and its rift with Sunni Islam - in Kerbala and Baghdad in 2004.

Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.