Saudi Arabia: Several wounded in blast at WWI memorial in Jeddah

Explosion at cemetery during international World War I commemoration ceremony strongly condemned by kingdom, France and others.

Several countries are marking the 102nd anniversary of the armistice signed by Germany and Allied countries to end the 1914-1918 war [Fayez Nurdeldine/AFP]
Several countries are marking the 102nd anniversary of the armistice signed by Germany and Allied countries to end the 1914-1918 war [Fayez Nurdeldine/AFP]

Officials have said at least three people were wounded when an explosive device hit an international ceremony commemorating the end of World War I at a cemetery in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah.

Several countries had representatives at Wednesday’s event, which was held at a cemetery for non-Muslim dead and was attended by foreign diplomats.

Hours after the incident, local authorities said a Greek national and a Saudi security officer were wounded in what they described as a “cowardly” attack. The British government said one UK national also suffered minor injuries.

The Saudi statement carried by state news agency SPA said an investigation was under way and confirmed that several consuls were present.

An official from Greece, who declined to be named, had earlier said there were “four slightly injured, among them one Greek”, without providing further details.

Saudi state television, meanwhile, broadcast from outside the cemetery and acknowledged that an attack involving an explosive device had taken place, but stressed that the security situation was now “stable”.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility and no word on the motive.

Hours after the incident, Saudi state television broadcast from outside the cemetery and acknowledged that an attack involving an explosive device took place [AFP]
In a joint statement by the embassies of France, Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States – all of which were associated with the commemoration ceremony – condemned the attack, calling it “cowardly”.

“Such attacks on innocent people are shameful and entirely without justice,” said the statement, adding that they pledged their support to the Saudi authorities as they investigate the incident.

“The annual ceremony commemorating the end of World War I at the non-Muslim cemetery in Jeddah, attended by several consulates, including that of France, was the target of an IED [improvised explosive device] attack this morning, which injured several people,” the French foreign ministry said.

France has urged its citizens in the kingdom to be “on maximum alert” amid heightened tensions after an assailant last month decapitated a French middle school teacher who showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class.

“In particular, exercise discretion and stay away from all gatherings and be cautious when moving around,” said a foreign ministry statement, which was circulated to French residents in Jeddah.

The French embassy in the UAE also called on French residents to maintain vigilance following the attack.

Extremely offensive

Wednesday’s blast came as French President Emmanuel Macron – the target of ire in much of the Muslim world for promising to defend comments and images disparaging Islam following a spate of attacks – attended a WWI memorial ceremony in Paris.

Several countries are marking the 102nd anniversary of the armistice signed by Germany and Allied countries to end the 1914-1918 war.

Macron has vigorously defended the right to publish cartoons viewed as extremely offensive by Muslims, including caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad printed by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The same cartoons were shown by French history teacher Samuel Paty to pupils in a class on free speech, leading to his beheading outside Paris on October 16 following an online campaign by parents angry about his choice of lesson material.

Macron’s stance angered many Muslims, prompting angry protests in several countries and a campaign to boycott French products.

Last month, a Saudi citizen with a knife injured a guard at the French consulate in Jeddah on the same day a knife-wielding man killed three people in a church in Nice in southern France.

Saudi Arabia – home to Islam’s holiest sites – has criticised the cartoons but “strongly” condemned last month’s attack in Nice.

Saudi King Salman is scheduled to deliver an annual address to the nation later in the day, laying out policy priorities for the coming year.

Source : Al Jazeera and News agencies

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