Saudi state television is reporting a suicide attack on a security center near the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, considered the second-holiest site in Islam after the Grand Mosque in nearby Mecca. Both are destinations for millions of Muslim pilgrims each year.
Four people were killed in the attack, according to a Saudi official who spoke to CNN. We have no reports yet of any organization taking responsibility for this incident, but ISIL has carried out several terror attacks around the world in recent days that appear timed to the end of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr holiday, including an assault that claimed twenty lives in Bangladesh two days ago and another in Baghdad that killed more than 140.
Today, there were attacks in the Saudi cities of Qatif, where there is a large Shia Muslim community, and Jeddah. The latter apparently targeted a US consulate on American Independence Day. Two people were injured in Jeddah, but no casualties are reported beyond the bomber. The casualties in Qatif are not yet clear.
This appears to be the first terror attack on one of the two holy cities since radical Islamists seized Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1979 in an attempt to destabilize the Saudi government. Deadly accidents such as last year’s stampede that killed hundreds have become increasingly common, however, as the infrastructure struggles to accommodate the swelling crowds of pilgrims that flock to Saudi Arabia for the hajj journey, a key religious requirement in Islam.
If ISIL is responsible for today’s attacks, they would seem to fall in line with the extremist group’s recent shift in focus toward attacks in Saudi Arabia, especially as it sees more battlefield losses in Iraq and Syria. The US military has increased the tempo of its operations against the group, killing more than 150 ISIL fighters in airstrikes on a convoy last week and two senior commanders in a precision strike days later.