CAIRO - At least four people have been killed in a suicide bombing at a Shi'ite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
Saudi officials claimed to have foiled the attack in Dammam. But the Islamic State said in a statement that the bomber, described as "a soldier of the caliphate, Abu Jandal al-Jazrawi," had managed to reach the site despite heightened security.
IS also claimed responsibility for another suicide attack inside a Shi'ite mosque in the Saudi city of Qatif last Friday. Twenty-two people were killed in that blast.
Authorities said the more recent explosion occurred as security officials approached the bomber's vehicle while it was being driven to a parking lot near the mosque. One witness said security volunteers tried to stop the vehicle from entering the women's side of the mosque.
Amateur video showed worshippers shouting and screaming after the sound of the blast outside the Anoud mosque. Other video showed fire engulfing at least half a dozen vehicles in a parking lot outside the building, as a thick cloud of black smoke filled the air.
Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman General Mansour Ben Turki told Saudi TV that tight security outside the mosque prevented the bomber from entering the building to blow himself up.
He said that security forces noticed a suspicious vehicle and prevented it from going further. The toll could have been worse if the bombing had happened inside the mosque among worshippers during prayers, he said.
Arab media reported that the suicide bomber was disguised as a woman, dressed in a black abaya and face veil. It was not immediately clear if the bomber was wearing a belt packed with explosives or if his vehicle was booby-trapped.
Saudi Arabia's top religious official, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Aziz Al Sheikh, said those who were behind the bombing would be punished.
Attacks like the two bombings are relatively rare in Saudi Arabia, though the country shares a long border with Iraq and Yemen, both of which have seen extensive violence and unrest.
But Paul Sullivan, who teaches at Georgetown University, told VOA that two suicide attacks in a week against Shi'ite targets in Saudi Arabia are “cause for worry,” because they took place in areas vital to the “oil industry and economy of Saudi Arabia.”
“These bombs were clearly intended to stir up further Sunni-Shia tensions ... and to damage the credibility of the Saudi leadership,” he said.
Terrorist groups like IS could be sending a message that they “can hit wherever [they] want” and “in sensitive areas,” Sullivan said.