January 5, 2015 9:59 am
Saudi Attack Raises Fears Of Jihadi Violence Overspill
Simeon Kerr in Dubai
A suicide assault in northern Saudi Arabia killed two border guards in the early hours of Monday morning, raising fears about an overspill of jihadi violence from Iraq and Syria.
“Terrorist elements” launched an attack on a border patrol near Arar close to the Saudi-Iraqi frontier, the interior ministry said.
One of the attackers was killed by members of the security forces, while the second detonated a suicide vest, killing himself, the two border guards and injuring a third security official, according to a statement on the official news agency.
The incident comes during a sensitive period with the country’s ageing monarch hospitalized with pneumonia.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is in a stable condition, according to the royal court. His designated successor, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, received assurances on his health during a visit on Sunday night.
The succession process, while expected to run smoothly, comes as the oil-rich kingdom is at the center of a global collapse in oil prices. Saudi Arabia, setting the lead for other Gulf producers, has refused to cut production as it seeks to retain market share.
Saudi Arabia map
But the strategy could also strain the country’s fiscal position. The need to tap into healthy financial reserves to sustain domestic spending has already sparked criticism from billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal after the government forecast a budget deficit of $39bn in 2015.
These economic challenges are magnified by regional security threats.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, last year expanded its control into areas adjoining the Iraqi border with Saudi Arabia.
Thousands of Saudis have joined the group’s ranks, prompting Riyadh — which has joined the US-led coalition against the group — to introduce tougher laws against its citizens who leave the country to pursue jihad.
Analysts say the militant Islamist group, which has threatened to target the government in Riyadh, also enjoys support among some Saudis.
The border assault follows a series of security incidents, including attacks on westerners in the capital, that have already raised concerns about internal stability.
A deadly gun attack on Shia worshippers in the kingdom’s eastern province in December was blamed on Isis sympathisers.