RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — A previously unheard of Islamic State group branch with links to Bahrain has purportedly claimed responsibility for a deadly shooting Friday targeting Shiite worshippers in eastern Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry said in a statement five citizens were killed in the shooting, among them a woman, and nine more people were wounded. The ministry did not immediately confirm the shooter's identity or offer details about the motives.
State television in Saudi Arabia reported that a gunman wearing an explosives' belt opened fire on Shiites at a prayer hall as they took part in evening worship. State TV reported the gunman was shot dead before he could detonate the explosives.
In a statement posted online, the purportedly new IS branch calling itself "Bahrain Province" claimed its gunman, named Shuja al-Dosari, used a Kalashnikov rifle to attack Shiites in their place of worship. The statement said the gunman killed Shiites as "they finished their polytheist rituals" and described them using the derogatory term "rafida", meaning those who reject the Sunni path.
This is the third IS branch to appear in the Arabian Peninsula this year. Two other branches in Saudi Arabia have claimed responsibility for previous attacks on Shiites and security forces that killed nearly 70 people. The last attack before Friday's was on Aug. 6, when a suicide bomber hit a mosque inside a police compound in western Saudi Arabia and killed 15 people.
The name of the so-called Bahrain Province branch of the IS appears to be in 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, though Saudi Arabia is majority Sunni and Bahrain's rulers are Sunni.
Friday's shooting took place in the city of Saihat, which is located in Saudi Arabia's al-Qatif region. Shiites traditionally pray at night in the lead up to Ashura, which falls this year on Oct. 24 in which many Shiite Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson through acts of self-flagellation.
Nearly a year ago, a similar shooting took place in eastern Saudi Arabia. In November 2014, eight Shiites were gunned down in a prayer hall by assailants police said had been inspired by the IS group.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Reem Khalifa contributed to this report from Manama, Bahrain.