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Saudis Foil Mecca Suicide Plot         06/24 10:00

   RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- A suicide bomber blew himself up near the Grand 
Mosque in Mecca as police disrupted a plot to target the holiest site in Islam 
just as the fasting month of Ramadan ends, Saudi security forces said Saturday.

   The Interior Ministry said it launched a raid around Jiddah, as well as two 
areas in Mecca itself, including the Ajyad Al-Masafi neighborhood, located near 
the Grand Mosque.

   There, police said they engaged in a shootout at a three-story house with a 
suicide bomber, who blew himself up and caused the building to collapse. He was 
killed, while the blast wounded six foreigners and five members of security 
forces, according to the Interior Ministry's statement. Five others were 
arrested, including a woman, it said.

   Saudi state television aired footage after the raid Friday near the Grand 
Mosque, showing police and rescue personnel running through the neighborhood's 
narrow streets. The blast demolished the building, its walls crushing a parked 
car. Nearby structures appeared to be peppered with shrapnel and bullet holes.

   The Interior Ministry said the thwarted "terrorist plan" would have violated 
"all sanctities by targeting the security of the Grand Mosque, the holiest 
place on Earth."

   "They obeyed their evil and corrupt self-serving schemes managed from abroad 
whose aim is to destabilize the security and stability of this blessed 
country," it said.

   The ministry did not name the group involved in the attack. The 
ultraconservative Sunni kingdom battled an al-Qaida insurgency for years and 
more recently has faced attacks from a local branch of the Islamic State group. 
Neither group immediately claimed involvement, though IS sympathizers online 
have urged more attacks as an offensive in Iraq slowly squeezes the extremists 
out of Mosul and their de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria comes under daily 
bombing from a U.S.-led coalition.

   The disrupted attack comes at a sensitive time in Saudi Arabia. King Salman 
earlier this week short-circuited the kingdom's succession by making his son, 
Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to the throne.

   The newly appointed 31-year-old crown prince is the architect of Saudi 
Arabia's stalemated war in Yemen against Shiite rebels. He has also offered 
aggressive comments about the kingdom confronting Shiite power Iran.

   Iran's Foreign Ministry on Saturday condemned the Mecca plot and said it 
remains willing to work with other countries in confronting terrorism.

   Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have cut diplomatic ties to 
neighboring Qatar and are trying to isolate the energy-rich country over its 
alleged support of militants and ties to Iran. Qatar long has denied those 
allegations.

   As the Interior Ministry announced the raid, over 1 million Muslim faithful 
prayed at the Prophet's Mosque in Medina to mark the end of Ramadan. In July 
2016, a suicide bombing there killed four members of Saudi Arabia's security 
forces.

   Millions of Muslims from around the world visit the mosque, the burial site 
of the Prophet Muhammad, every year as part of their pilgrimage. The same day 
in July, separate suicide bomb attacks targeted a Shiite mosque in eastern 
Saudi Arabia and near the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah.

   The Grand Mosque has been the target of militants before, in part because it 
represents a symbol of the ruling Al Saud family's clout in the Islamic world. 
The Saudi monarch bears the title of "custodian of the two holy mosques."

   In 1979, some 250 militants seized the mosque and held it for two weeks as 
they demanded the royal family abdicate the throne. When Saudi troops stormed 
the mosque, the official death toll was 229, including extremists and soldiers.


(KA)

 
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