RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – An allegedly new Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant affiliate in Saudi Arabia claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a mosque inside a police compound in the country’s southwest on Thursday that killed at least 15 people, most of them members and recruits of the kingdom’s special forces.
It was the deadliest attack against Saudi security personnel in years and one that is likely to pull the kingdom deeper into the regional war with ISIL extremists.
The blast took place in an Interior Ministry compound in the city of Abha, the provincial capital of Asir, which lies along the border with war-torn Yemen. The troops killed were members of an elite counterterrorism force.
The attack was stunning in its timing and target, coming just weeks after the Saudi Interior Ministry announced the arrest of more than 400 suspects in an anti-terrorism sweep. In April, they announced the arrest of more than 90 suspects.
The kingdom had for years quietly allowed thousands of Saudis to join militant groups fighting in Iraq and Syria, until the late King Abdullah last year decreed that fighting abroad was illegal. At the same time, Saudi Arabia joined a U.S.-led coalition carrying out airstrikes in Syria and Iraq against ISIL.
The kingdom is also leading a coalition targeting Yemen’s Iran-allied Shiite rebels who have carried out cross-border attacks against Saudi military targets.
Hours after Thursday’s bombing in Abha, a previously unheard of ISIL affiliate, which calls itself Hijaz Province of the Islamic State, claimed responsibility for the attack.
The group said an ISIL suicide bomber targeted a “monument of the apostate,” referring to the special forces’ compound in Abha. It described the kingdom’s ruling family as “tyrants” who have aligned themselves with “their Crusader masters,” or Western allies.