Saudi prince promises “iron hand” when IS group claims attack on Western diplomats

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday promised to beat extremists with an “iron fist”, after a bombing of a gathering of Western diplomats was claimed by the Islamic State.

The bomber struck shortly after noon in front of a Jeddah World War II memorial in a Jeddah cemetery, just two weeks after a guard at the French consulate in the Red Sea city was wounded by a knife-wielding Saudi citizen.

The attack, which underscores Muslim outrage over French satirical caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, comes as Saudi Arabia prepares for the G20 summit later this month – the first to host an Arab nation.

“We will continue to confront everything extremist … behavior and ideas,” Prince Mohammed said in an address to the Shura Council, the highest government advisory body.

“We will continue to strike with an iron fist against all those who want to harm our security and stability,” he said, according to the transcript of his speech published by the official Saudi press agency.

Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, warned those trying to carry out jihadist acts against a “painful and severe punishment”.

Wednesday’s attack in Jeddah left at least two people wounded, including a Greek policeman and a Saudi official.

A British citizen is also believed to have been injured.

Diplomats from France, Greece, Italy, Britain and the United States attended the ceasefire ceremony in Jeddah, their embassies said.

The Islamic State group on Thursday claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it was protesting cartoons printed by the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

A statement from the IS group’s propaganda arm, Amaq, said the attack was “primarily aimed at the French consul”.

The group offered no proof of its commitment.

In a separate incident on Thursday, Dutch police arrested a man after several shots were fired at the Saudi embassy in The Hague, causing injuries but no injuries.

It was not clear if the incident, which the Saudi government condemned as “cowardly”, was linked to the attacks in the kingdom.

‘Extreme vigilance’

The French embassy in Riyadh has meanwhile called on its citizens in Saudi Arabia to exercise “extreme vigilance”.

The warning followed an attack on the Jeddah consulate on October 29, the same day that a knife-wielding man killed three people in a church in Nice in the south of France.

French President Emmanuel Macron has vigorously defended the right to publish comics, but he has also tried to convince Muslim outrage over his comments.

Macron’s stance has led to protests in several countries where portraits of the French president were burned and a campaign to boycott French products.

Saudi Arabia – home to Islam’s holiest sites – has criticized the caricatures, saying it rejected “any attempt to link Islam and terrorism”.

In his speech, Prince Mohammed said he hoped “the world will stop attacking religious symbols under the slogan of freedom of speech” because it creates a “fertile environment for extremism and terrorism”.

Saudi Arabia, long accused of exporting its ultra-conservative Wahhabist Sunni doctrine around the world, is itself a victim of domestic terrorist attacks.

Prince Mohammed, who promised in 2017 to return Saudi Arabia to an “open, moderate Islam”, has sought to regain influence from the ultra-conservative religious establishment.

“Extremism is no longer tolerated in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Prince Mohammed said in his speech.

The heir to the Saudi throne has limited the influence of the once powerful religious police, as he allows mixed gender music concerts, cinemas and other entertainment options that appeal to a majority of the young population.

But at the same time, the prince has embarked on a comprehensive fight against dissent and freedom of speech and arrested women activists, priests and journalists as well as royal family members.

Saudi Arabia is also struggling with a sharp drop in coronavirus, which has triggered unpopular austerity measures, including tripling its VAT and abolishing monthly compensation to government employees.

Prince Mohammed acknowledged the “great pain” caused by the austerity force and spoke of the government’s efforts to tackle high unemployment and fight nasty corruption.