Fourteen people, including 11 policemen, were hurt when riots erupted in a Shiite-majority village in eastern Saudi Arabia, state news agency SPA said Tuesday, blaming the unrest on a “foreign country.”
“A group of outlaws and rioters on motorbikes gathered” at a roundabout in the village of Al-Awamia in Al-Qatif province on Monday “carrying petrol bombs,” SPA said, citing the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s interior ministry.
The group carried out acts causing “insecurity with incitement from a foreign country that aims to undermine the nation’s security and stability,” SPA quoted a ministry spokesman as saying.
“Security forces managed to deal with those traitors at the spot and after they were dispersed, machinegun fire erupted from a nearby neighbourhood.”
It said nine policemen were wounded in the gunfire and two hurt by petrol bombs.
Three civilians were also wounded, it said.
Saudi Arabia described the unrest as a “blatant interference in its sovereignty.”
“Those must clearly state whether their loyalty is to God then to their country, or to this country and its (religious) authority,” it added, apparently referring to Shiite-ruled Iran.
A Shiite Saudi activist contacted by AFP said that tension grew in the village on Monday after police arrested two men, both in their 70s, in a bid to force their wanted sons, accused of taking part in Shiite-led protests, to surrender.
The health of one of the two men, Hassan al-Zayed, deteriorated in detention and they were later freed, said the activist, who requested anonymity.
A rights activist and writer, Hassan al-Manasef, who went to the police station to inquire about the two men was himself arrested, he added.
A fourth man, Hussein Hathiya, was also arrested when he came to inquire about Manasef, said the same activist.
Saudi police arrested between 20 and 30 Shiites, including two bloggers, for allegedly taking part in protests in oil-rich Eastern Province, activists and an internet websites said in April.
The arrests were made in Al-Qatif and nearby areas which witnessed demonstrations urging the release of prisoners and voicing solidarity with Bahraini Shiites.
The overwhelming majority of the estimated two million Saudi Shiites live in Eastern Province, which neighbours Bahrain where authorities, supported by Saudi-led Gulf troops, earlier this year crushed a Shiite-led protest.
The crackdown on Bahrain’s Shiites, who make up most of the tiny kingdom’s population, soured relations between the Gulf states and Iran.
Last month, the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council accused Iran of issuing provocative statements about its members.
But the country rejected its neighbours’ accusations, saying it always refrained from interfering in other countries’ affairs.