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World

Suicide Bombers Hit 3 Saudi Cities in 24 Hours

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're learning more about three suicide bombings in three separate cities in Saudi Arabia yesterday. The most shocking took place in the city of Medina. This is the burial place of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. It's one of the holiest places in Islam. Four members of the Saudi security services were killed there. And for more, we're joined by NPR's Leila Fadel. Hey, Leila.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Hi.

GREENE: So start by telling us what exactly happened here.

FADEL: Well, there were three bombings across Saudi Arabia yesterday. It started in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, near the U.S. consulate. A bomber exploded only killing himself, and that bomber has been identified by the ministry of interior as a Pakistani man who lived in Saudi Arabia named Abdullah Qalzar Khan. And then as people were breaking their fasts on one of the last days of Ramadan - tomorrow is the holiday, according to Saudi Arabia - another person blew himself up near a market in eastern Saudi Arabia.

And then the worst attack, the most shocking attack to the Muslim world was in Medina, where a man was walking by members of the security force who were breaking their fast. And Saudi media reports that they actually offered him food to break his fast as well, and that's when he blew himself up. The minister of interior says that killed four people and really condemned that attack as an attack - a despicable act that didn't respect the sanctity of the holiness of that place or the sanctity of people's blood.

And the attack on Medina - a lot of Muslims on Facebook, on Twitter in conversations with each other are saying that this attack is a turning point, a real attack not only on Saudi Arabia, but the Muslim world.

GREENE: When you say that one of the attackers at least has been identified at this point - I mean, has any group, anyone claimed responsibility?

FADEL: At this point, there's been no claim of responsibility. There are already accusations towards the extremist group ISIS that they may have carried this out. ISIS still hasn't claimed any of the three bombings. We're still waiting to see.

The Saudi government, though, reminds people in a factsheet that they sent around that, you know, the royal family is seen as an enemy of the so-called Islamic State. And rhetoric against Saudi Arabia by ISIS has been ramping up over the past year.

GREENE: And I wonder about the reaction here because even though these death toll numbers - I mean, we deal with higher death toll numbers, sadly, in recent attacks - I mean, this - these targets seem really significant.

FADEL: It's the location that has shocked so many people, so you're seeing condemnations coming in from Jordan, from Egypt, from the United States, from other Gulf countries and most notably a condemnation from Saudi Arabia's enemy, Iran.

GREENE: And, Leila, isn't this complicated? I mean, Saudi Arabia, a Sunni country that has been criticized by the outside world for, you know, possibly supporting terrorist groups like ISIS - so what does this mean?

FADEL: Right. This is a Sunni-majority country. Saudi Arabia is seen as sort of the Sunni powerhouse of the region. And critics of the government will say that actually Saudi Arabia may not have explicitly exported terrorism, but implicitly has through exploiting a very literal rigid form of a stem that is practiced in Saudi Arabia. Critics will point to that as a reason that we're seeing so many people taking up arms and joining groups like ISIS.

Now, this is something obviously the Saudi government refutes. They talk about the number of people that they've arrested, the fact that they themselves are victims of these types of attacks. But critics will say at least implicitly this government has allowed for the growth of this type of extremism.

GREENE: All right. Talking to NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo. Leila, thanks as always.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.