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World

A Check On Saudi Arabia, Which Is Investigating 3 Suicide Bombings

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Very solemn ending this year to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Across the Middle East and in Bangladesh, there have been a spate of attacks. Many have been blamed on the Islamic State. This week, suicide bombers hit three places in Saudi Arabia, including the area outside the mosque where the Prophet Muhammad is buried in Medina.

The country's interior ministry yesterday said that bomber was a Saudi. One of the others has been identified as a Pakistani national. For more about how Saudi Arabia is grappling with this, we spoke to Fahad Nazer. He's a senior political analyst at the consulting firm JTG, Inc. and a nonresident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute. Nazer says that the authorities are sending signals that they believe these attacks in Saudi Arabia are the work of the Islamic State, but they haven't confirmed that yet.

FAHAD NAZER: And ISIS has obviously conducted several terrorist attacks since the beginning of the year, targeting various sites, houses of worship. But also, they've assassinated security personnel. So the Saudi authorities have seen this before. And again, ISIS has this track record at this point of attacking mosques. Al-Qaida really never did that. But back in 2003, when it launched the terrorist campaign against - in Saudi Arabia, it at least refrained from doing that. But ISIS has done that it. It has targeted houses of worship repeatedly.

GREENE: The people being targeted seem different. I mean, you had U.S. diplomats in Jeddah. You had Shiite Muslim worshippers in Qatif and then, of course, you know, in Medina, the mosque where the Prophet Muhammad is buried. What do you make of this sort of choice of locations?

NAZER: I mean, it's very clear that they're trying to foment sectarian discord by targeting the Shia minority in the Eastern province. They've assassinated the number of police officers and personnel. And they've also gone after Western targets.

GREENE: What would a group like ISIS gain from creating, you know, a lot of instability in a country like Saudi Arabia?

NAZER: Well, I've argued that as far as ISIS is concerned, Saudi Arabia is the ultimate prize. Saudi Arabia is obviously the birthplace of Islam. It is the location of its two holy mosques. And ISIS thinks that it should rule over it and should have custodianship of the mosques. And its followers have issued a number of recordings and videos over the past few months vowing to conquer the land of the two holy mosques, as they call it.

GREENE: Help me, if you can, understand one of the narratives that seems to be out there right now. There are some who argue that Saudi Arabia has actually played a role in spreading this radical interpretation of Islam, perhaps leading to groups like ISIS. But now the kingdom, you know, could be paying a high price for sending that brand of Islam into other parts of the world. I mean, is - is that a fair narrative in any way?

NAZER: No, I really don't think so. I think the people making this argument seem to overlook the fact that the Saudi government has taken a pretty hard look at what is being taught at its schools and what is being preached at its mosques. A lot is changing. I think the country is becoming more tolerant, more inclusive and more embracing of its religious and sectarian diversity, to be honest.

GREENE: All right, we've been speaking to Fahad Nazer, a senior political analyst at consulting firm JTG, Inc. He's also a nonresident fellow at the Gulf States Institute in Washington. Thanks so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

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