A previously unknown Islamic State (IS) branch with links to Bahrain claimed responsibility on Friday for a deadly shooting targeting Shiite worshippers in the eastern Saudi city of Saihat.
The Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement that five citizens were killed in the shooting, among them a woman, and that nine people were wounded.
The ministry did not identify the assailant or offer details about motives.
State television in Saudi Arabia reported that a gunman wearing an explosives belt fired on the Shiites at a prayer hall as they took part in evening worship and said the gunman was fatally shot before he could detonate the explosives.
In a statement posted online, a new IS branch calling itself Bahrain Province claimed that it sent a gunman, named Shuja al-Dosari, with a Kalashnikov rifle to kill the Shiites as they finished their “polytheist rituals.”
It described them using the derogatory term “rafida,” meaning those who reject the Sunni path followed by Islamic State.
If its claim is confirmed, Bahrain Province would be the third branch to appear in the Arabian Peninsula this year.
Two other branches in Saudi Arabia have claimed previous attacks on Shiites and security forces that killed nearly 70 people. One attack on August 6 saw a suicide bomber hit a mosque inside a police compound in western Saudi Arabia, killing 15 people.
Last November, a similar shooting took place in eastern Saudi Arabia. Eight Shiites were gunned down in a prayer hall by assailants police said had been inspired by IS.
The Bahrain Province name appears to be a reference to the historic area of Bahrain, which once encompassed the current island-state and parts of what is now the oil-rich eastern region of Saudi Arabia. The kingdom’s eastern region and Bahrain are predominantly Shiite, but Saudi Arabia is majority Sunni and Bahrain’s rulers are Sunni.
Saihat is in Saudi Arabia’s al-Qatif region.
Shiites traditionally pray at night in the lead-up to Ashura, which falls this year on October 24, in which many Shiite Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson through acts of self-flagellation.