(Corrects name of village in first paragraph in story originally published July 14.)
Four Saudi security personnel were injured in an attack by masked gunmen while on patrol in Saihat in the oil-rich Eastern Province, the Saudi Press Agency reported, citing an Interior Ministry spokesman.
Gunmen also fired at a police station in Awwamiya and threw a Molotov cocktail while riding motorcycles, the Riyadh-based news service said today, citing Major General Mansour al-Turki. One of the assailants was killed in the attack on the station and three others escaped, it said.
While Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia largely avoided the unrest that spread across the Arab world last year, minority Shiite protesters have clashed with security forces in Awwamiya, al-Qatif and other eastern towns. In February, Saudi Arabia accused “a number of elements” of trying to provoke violence by firing on security forces in Awwamiya.
“A new cycle of Shiite protests against the Saudi regime and its policing tactics is developing in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia,” Crispin Hawes, director for the Middle East and North Africa at Eurasia Group in London, wrote in an e- mailed note yesterday. “The immediate implications for state stability and crude oil production are limited, but the repercussions for the stability of the province in the longer- term are potentially significant.”
Oil pipelines run near the village to Ras Tanura, the country’s largest refinery, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) away. Awwamiya is close to the al-Qatif oil field, which produces as much as 500,000 barrels a day. Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest oil exporter.
The attacks came about five days after Saudi security forces arrested dissident Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Awwamiya earlier this month, the Saudi Press Agency reported on July 8. Two Shiite men were killed after his arrest though there were no security confrontations, the Interior Ministry said said in a statement sent by mobile-phone text message on July 9.
Videos posted on Youtube and Al-Jazeera showed demonstrators in the streets al-Qatif and Awwamiya after the arrest of al-Nimr. The authenticity of the videos couldn’t be verified by Bloomberg News. The Interior Ministry said a “limited number of people have assembled” in Awwamiya.
“The current demonstrations are more severe and appear to be more coordinated than previous incidents,” Hawes said.
The U.S. State Department noted in a human-rights report on Saudi Arabia published in 2009 that Shiites in the kingdom face “significant political, economic, legal, social and religious discrimination condoned by the government.”
U.S. citizens living in or considering travel to al-Qatif and Awwamiya should exercise caution and be aware of the potential for protests that can result in violence, the American Embassy in Riyadh said in an e-mailed statement July 9. There is a potential for further demonstrations, the embassy said.
Awwamiya, a village north of al-Qatif on the Persian Gulf, was the scene of much larger demonstrations in 2009 after police sought to arrest al-Nimr, who had said in a sermon that Saudi Shiites may be able to seek a state of their own in the future. Al-Nimr has been one of the people behind riots in Awwamiya, the Interior Ministry said after his arrest.
Saudi Arabia has accused Shiite-led Iran of interfering in the affairs of Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, home to three-fifths of the world’s oil reserves. Iran denies this and accuses Sunni rulers in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia of discriminating against Shiites.
To contact the reporter on this story: Glen Carey in Riyadh at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com