Saudi Arabia Vows 'Iron Fist' After Attack in Oil Province
Glen Carey, C2011 Bloomberg News
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
(Updates with comment from Interior Ministry spokesman in third paragraph.
See EXTRA for more Mideast news.)
Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia vowed to use "an iron fist" after 11
members of the security forces were attacked and injured during unrest in a
Shiite Muslim town in the east, the official Saudi Press Agency said.
The government accused an unidentified foreign country of seeking to
undermine the stability of the kingdom as a result of the violence in
Awwamiya, in which the assailants, some on motorcycles, used machine guns
and Molotov cocktails, the Riyadh-based news service reported late
yesterday. A man and two women were also injured, it said.
Saudi security forces were fired upon from side streets after they halted a
small demonstration in Awwamiya, Interior Ministry spokesman Major General
Mansour al-Turki said in a phone interview today. "It wasn't a confrontation
between the police and the people," he said. "I don't expect this to be
repeated. It was an isolated incident."
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil supplier, escaped the mass protests
that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia this year and spread to Saudi
neighbors Yemen and Bahrain. There were rallies earlier in the year in
mostly Shiite eastern Saudi Arabia, including Awwamiya and al-Qatif village.
Predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia has accused Shiite-led Iran of interfering
in the affairs of Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, home to three-fifths
of the world's oil reserves. Iran denies the charge and accuses Sunni rulers
in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia of discriminating against Shiites. Saudi Arabia
and other Gulf countries sent troops to Bahrain in March to quell the mainly
'Greater Trouble Ahead'
"Given that this happened in the predominantly Shiite area of Saudi Arabia,
in its east, this could be a sign of greater trouble ahead," Paul Sullivan,
a political scientist specializing in Middle East security at Georgetown
University in Washington, said yesterday in response to e-mailed questions.
"It could easily ratchet up Saudi-Iran tensions."
King Abdullah announced $130 billion in spending in February and March in
response to the spread of unrest in the Middle East. The kingdom's senior
religious scholars responded by issuing a statement calling protests
un-Islamic, ahead of a so-called Day of Rage planned for March 11 in Saudi
Arabia. Protesters stayed off the streets amid a high security presence.
"Using motorcycles is a new tactic in Saudi Arabia," said Theodore Karasik,
director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf
Military Analysis. "It is a new way to get around security forces. Oil
prices will likely rise because of the nature of the attack and if the
Oil gained for the first day in four in New York after a surprise drop in
U.S. crude stockpiles led investors to reduce bets that prices will decline.
Crude for November delivery rose 2.8 percent to $77.75 a barrel at 6:45 a.m.
Saudi Arabia produced 9.8 million barrels of oil a day in September, while
Iran pumped 3.6 million barrels a day, according to Bloomberg data.
Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority is concentrated in its eastern oil-producing
hub. The U.S. State Department said in a human-rights report on Saudi Arabia
published in 2009 that Shiites face "significant political, economic, legal,
social and religious discrimination condoned by the government."
The rioters must decide whether "their loyalty is with their homeland or to
that state and its authorities," the Interior Ministry said in a statement,
according to the Saudi Press Agency. The attack took place at 9 p.m. local
time on Oct. 3, the news service said.
The government called on "rational members of their families, those of whose
loyalties we have no doubts, to bear their responsibilities towards their
sons," the interior ministry said. "Otherwise, all will bear the
consequences of their actions."
Bahrain's Saudi-backed rulers detained hundreds of people, most of them
sharing Iran's Shiite faith, following a crackdown on protesters who held
rallies in February and March to demand a more representative government. At
least 35 people were killed during the clashes. Shiites represent about 70
percent of Bahrain's population, according to the U.S. State Department,
while its hereditary rulers are Sunni.
"What we may be beginning to see is the response to the crackdown in
Bahrain," Karasik said in a phone interview. "There may be more radical, new
groups, who are attacking Saudi security forces in terms of the Sunni-Shiite
Saudi Arabia, which holds 20 percent of the world's oil reserves, enforces
restrictions interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. In
addition to the restrictions on women, the government limits the practices
of other branches of Islam.
--With assistance from Mourad Haroutunian in Riyadh, Inal Ersan in Dubai and
Margot Habiby in Dallas. Editors: Ben Holland, Andrew J. Barden, Karl Maier.
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Received on Wed Oct 05 2011 - 08:35:00 EDT