Middle East

Saudi Arabia Shia-linked gun battles 'leave nine dead'

Video purportedly filmed after the attack Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Video purportedly filmed after the first attack showed bullet casings and bloodstains

At least nine people have died in two separate gun battles in Saudi Arabia.

In the first incident on Monday, masked gunmen killed at least five people in the town of Dalwah, a Shia Muslim area in eastern Saudi Arabia.

On Tuesday in a shootout believed to be linked to that attack, two suspected militants and two Saudi policemen were killed in Buraida, north of Riyadh.

Shias, who make up less than 15% of the Sunni-majority nation, are currently marking the festival of Ashura.

It commemorates the death of a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

'Shocked'

Monday's attack was in Dalwah in Ahsa district, one of the centres for Shia Muslims.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Shias mark Ashura in Qatif, 400km east of Riyadh

At least three attackers fired machineguns and pistols at a crowd that was leaving a building where ceremonies had been taking place, police said.

At least 15 people have been arrested in connection with the shooting.

One resident of Eastern Province, Nasima al-Sada, told Agence France-Presse: "It's very surprising because it's the first time. We are shocked."

Saudi Arabia's supreme council of Sunni clerics condemned the attack, saying: "The enemies of our religion and our homeland aim to attack our unity and stability."

There were few details of the second gun battle.

The Saudi Press Agency said that in addition to the dead, two security officers were wounded.

The interior ministry said the gun battle began when officers tried to arrest suspects believed to be involved in Monday's incident.

Shia Muslims have long complained of marginalisation by the Sunni royal family, with the Eastern Province, where most of the country's Shia live, seeing a spate of protests in the wake of the Arab Spring.

The Saudi government denies allegations of discrimination and blames Iran for stirring up discontent.

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