Saudi bombings: Why targeting of Medina is particularly significant

Bombs rocked three Saudi Arabian cities on Monday, the second to last day of Ramadan. The Muslim holy month has been particularly bloody this year, with over 300 deaths in attacks from Orlando to Dhaka to Istanbul.

Courtesy of Noor Punasiya/AP
People stand by an explosion site in Medina, Saudi Arabia, Monday. State-linked Saudi news websites reported an explosion Monday near one of Islam's holiest sites in the city of Medina, as two suicide bombers struck in different cities.

Three Saudi Arabian cities were rocked by suicide bombers on Monday. The attacks took place near the US consulate in Jeddah, near a Shi'ite mosque in Qatif, and outside the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, the second-holiest site in Islam. 

Religious and political leaders have expressed outrage, particularly for the strike on the mosque where the Prophet Muhammad is buried. The attacks came just before sundown on the second to last day of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Many worshippers had gathered at the mosque to break their fast.

The blasts "prove that those renegades ... have violated everything that is sacred," said Saudi Arabia's supreme council of clerics, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The attack on the Prophet's mosque was the most deadly, killing four security officers. There has been no claim of responsibility.

Pilgrims from around the world make their way to the mosque, also known as Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, during the final days of Ramadan each year. According to the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya News Channel, two million worshippers had arrived at the Medina mosque as of Monday.

The attacks may have been to undermine the Saudi royal family, suggests Madhawi al-Rasheed, a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute. "It's an attempt to actually embarrass the Saudi government because it boasts of protecting the pilgrims and the holy places," she told AFP.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, who is also the Saudi interior minister, was quoted by the state news agency SPA saying, "The security of the homeland is good, it is at its highest levels and thanks be to God it gets stronger every day," during a visit to three people who were injured during the attacks, according to Reuters.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has been particularly bloody this year, with over 300 deaths in attacks from Orlando to Dhaka to Istanbul. 

The vast majority of Muslims see Ramadan as a time to fast, pray, ask for mercy and blessings, and for good actions. But some radicals see the holy month as time for "conquest and plunder," according to Shiraz Maher, a member of the Department of War Studies at King's College London and deputy director of its International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence. 

Dr. Maher writes for the BBC:

Ordinary Muslims rightfully despair at these interpretations of jihad and its link to Ramadan. 

For them it is a month of restraint and reflection – but such is the crisis of modern Islam that extremist interpretations of the same idea are almost wholly divorced from normative understandings.

To the radical mind, if additional prayer and alms giving is encouraged in Ramadan – then why not more bloodshed too?"

Although the terrorist organization has not claimed responsibility for Monday's attacks in Saudi Arabia, the self-proclaimed Islamic State militant group did call for supporters to engage in such violence during Ramadan.

Maher writes, "As Ramadan approached, IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani told supporters around the world; 'Get prepared, be ready to make it a month of calamity everywhere for the non-believers ... especially for the fighters and supporters of the caliphate in Europe and America.' "

The attack on the Prophet's mosque has drawn condemnation from diverse Muslim leaders. As AFP reports:

"There are no more red lines left for terrorists to cross. Sunnis, Shiites will both remain victims unless we stand united as one," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.

Lebanon-based Shiite militant group Hezbollah – which Saudi Arabia accuses of supporting "terrorist acts" across the region – also denounced the Medina attack as "a new sign of the terrorists' contempt for all that Muslims consider sacred."

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