Saudi Arabia’s Interior Minister says a police officer been killed and three others injured in a “terrorist act” in the kingdom’s oil-rich and Shia-populated Qatif region in Eastern Province.
The ministry said in a statement, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), that Vice Sergeant Adel Faleh al-Otaibi lost his life and three of his security companions sustained injuries early morning on Tuesday, when their patrol vehicle was hit by “an explosive projectile” in al-Mosara, the old quarter of the restive town of Awamiyah.
The ministry’s spokesman also said security authorities had begun an investigation into the “terrorist crime”, but gave no further details regarding the incident.
On June 11, a senior Saudi policeman was killed and two members of the security forces were injured when an explosive device blew up beside their patrol vehicle in the same area, located some 390 kilometers (242 miles) northeast of the capital Riyadh.
Awamiyah has witnessed an increase in anti-regime protests and an ensuing crackdown as Riyadh has insisted to destroy al-Mosara, claiming the neighborhood’s narrow streets had become a hideout for militants believed to be behind attacks on security forces in the region.
Saudi authorities intend to turn Mosara into a commercial zone, despite warnings both by locals and the United Nations that the controversial plan would ruin the 400-year-old neighborhood’s historical and cultural heritage and could eventually lead to the forced eviction of hundreds of people from their businesses and residence.
Eastern Province, particularly the Qatif region, has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters, complaining of marginalization in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the oil-rich region.
The government has responded to the protests with a heavy-handed crackdown, but the demonstrations have intensified since January 2016, when the Saudi regime executed respected Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken critic of the policies of Riyadh. The provocative move further escalated tension across the region. Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws so as to target activism.
The Shia community of the region accounts for somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of Saudi Arabia’s 33-million-strong population.