Authorities in Saudi Arabia said they averted a plot targeting the Grand Mosque in Mecca during the final hours of Ramadan.
A man accused of planning the attack on Islam’s holiest places blew himself up in Mecca during a gunfight with police, Saudi Interior Ministry officials said Saturday.
Five people, including one woman, were arrested in a series of police raids in Mecca and in the kingdom’s Red Sea port of Jeddah, police said.
The five people arrested were thought to be part of the same militant group, but there was no word on the identity or affiliation of the bomber who blew himself up on Friday. Saudi authorities stopped short of naming the Islamic State group as the source of the terror plot, but IS has a long history of antipathy toward the Saudi royal family.
Security operations continuing
Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry spokesman, Major General Mansur al-Turki, told state-owned Al Arabiya Television the incident in Mecca was not the first potential terror attack that security forces had averted recently, but added, “We hope it is the last, especially concerning the Grand Mosque.”
Al-Turki gave no further details, but said security operations were continuing.
Both Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah condemned the alleged plot against Mecca, which Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said was another sign that “terrorism is rampant and growing now across the whole world.”
Messages of support for Saudi Arabia, as well as worldwide condemnation of any violence aimed at the Grand Mosque, poured in from throughout the Arab world.
The alleged terror plot leader had been staying in an apartment near the Grand Mosque for several weeks, authorities said. Anticipating a possible attack during the last hours of Ramadan, police raided the suspect’s hideout Friday.
Blast collapsed building
After an exchange of gunfire seen by bystanders and Muslim pilgrims visiting Mecca, the alleged bombmaker set off an explosion that killed him and collapsed the three-story building where he was living in the central part of the city, in the Ajrad al-Masafi neighborhood.
The blast injured six foreign visitors to Mecca and five police officers, authorities said.
There was no word on when or how the plotters’ attack on the Grand Mosque was to have taken place.
Sunday marks the feast of Eid al-Fitr in Saudi Arabia and most of the Muslim world, a celebration that brings to a close the holy month of Ramadan, a time of fasting and prayers.
Security officials in Saudi Arabia have been on alert during the final week of Ramadan for possible attacks by jihadists who oppose the Saudi royal family’s stewardship of the holy sites of Islam. The Islamic State group has carried out a number of deadly attacks in the kingdom in recent years, but did not immediately take responsibility for the blast in Mecca.
Islamic State is believed to have carried out a suicide attack last year, on the eve of Eid al-Fitr, near the Prophet’s Mosque in the city of Medina. Four Saudi security officers were killed during that incident.
The Grand Mosque in Mecca, the largest Muslim house of worship in the world, surrounds Islam’s holiest place, the Kaaba — the black cube that Muslims around the globe turn toward when they kneel to pray.