Saudi wounds guard at French consulate in knife attack

Saudi police say the attacker in Jeddah was a Saudi citizen, but it did not give the nationality of the guard, who they say sustained minor injuries.

The French embassy in Riyadh strongly condemned the attack and urged its nationals in Saudi Arabia to exercise 'extreme vigilance' [File: Thomas Coex/AFP]

A Saudi citizen wounded a guard in a knife attack at the French consulate in Jeddah on Thursday.

The assault came the same day as knifings at a church in the French city of Nice left three people dead and several others wounded, in what authorities are treating as the latest attack to rock France.

“The assailant was apprehended by Saudi security forces immediately after the attack. The guard was taken to hospital and his life is not in danger,” the embassy said in a statement.

Police in Mecca province, where Jeddah is situated, said the attacker was a Saudi, but it did not give the nationality of the guard, who they said had sustained minor injuries.

“The French Embassy strongly condemns this attack against a diplomatic outpost, which nothing could justify,” it said in a statement, urging its nationals in Saudi Arabia to exercise “extreme vigilance”.

Security around the Jeddah consulate later appeared to be tightened with Saudi police cars seen patrolling around the complex at regular intervals.

In Riyadh, two police cars were stationed outside the embassy located in the city’s high-security Diplomatic Quarter, as Saudi policemen prevented passers-by from taking photographs.

Neither the Saudi authorities nor the French embassy gave any indication of the motivation for the attack.

But it comes after France’s President Emmanuel Macron vigorously defended the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on free speech grounds.

Macron has also drawn fire from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as other Muslim-majority countries.

Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia – home to Islam’s holiest sites – has criticised the cartoons, saying it rejected “any attempt to link Islam and terrorism” but it stopped short of condemning the French leadership.

Macron’s defence of Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish drawings of the Prophet, which is forbidden under Islam, came after the murder on October 16 of a French school teacher who had shown cartoons to pupils during a class discussion about freedom of speech.

members of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo
The artwork of French street artist Christian Guemy aka ‘C215’ depicts members of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo [Francois Guillot/AFP]

Growing anger

The assault in Saudi Arabia came after a suspect in France, also armed with a knife, killed at least three people and wounded several others at a church in Nice on Thursday morning, in an incident the city’s mayor described as an act of “terrorism”.

Saudi Arabia has condemned that attack.

“The kingdom categorically rejects extremist acts that contradict all religions and human beliefs,” the Saudi foreign ministry said, according to the official Saudi news agency SPA.

“At the same time, it underlines the importance of repudiating practices that beget hatred, violence and extremism.”

Mayor Christian Estrosi said on Twitter the attacker had been detained, adding  one of the victims was killed in “horrible” way, “like the professor” – an apparent reference to the recent attack on French teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded in broad daylight.

The exact motives of the attacks in France and Saudi Arabia remain unclear but both incidents come amid growing anger in the Middle East over Macron’s push to “reform” Islam. He has vowed not to “give up cartoons” depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which have triggered a growing boycott of French goods in the Arab world.

The caricatures, which are deeply offensive to Muslims, are part of a renewed debate on freedom of expression after Paty’s killing.

Charlie Hebdo was targeted in a 2015 massacre that killed 12 people, including some of its most famous cartoonists.

France has been on high alert for attacks since the massacre. The trial of suspected accomplices in that attack is under way in Paris.

On Thursday, Muslims around the world are celebrating the Prophet’s birthday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies