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Saudi Arabia on edge after ISIS claims mosque attack

This weekend, Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a mosque in Saudi Arabia where at least 21 people were killed. The Saudi king later vowed to punish those involved. Erin Cunningham, a reporter for The Washington Post, joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Cairo.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Returning to the growing fight against ISIS, now spreading into Saudi Arabia.

    Yesterday, the Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at a mosque Friday. At least 21 people were killed. And, today, the Saudi king vowed to punish those involved.

    Washington Post reporter Erin Cunningham joins me via Skype from Cairo.

    So, there have been a handful of other incidents in the Saudi kingdom over the past six months. How have the authorities connected the dots?

  • ERIN CUNNINGHAM, The Washington Post:

    Well, I think that you have a number of Saudis that have gone to Iraq and Syria to participate in the insurgencies there.

    And I think that this is how the Islamic State works, is that they have — they recruit people inside various countries either to carry out attacks or to come back to Iraq and Syria, and join them where they are fighting.

    So I think that the Saudis were able to see this, that these people who carried out these attacks over the past six months have had contact with the Islamic State, and that's how they were able to identify them.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Put this in perspective for us.

    This comes in the context of Sunni-Shia tension that already exists in Saudi Arabia.

  • ERIN CUNNINGHAM:

    Sure. Yes, it does.

    There is a Shia minority in Eastern Saudi Arabia that has long said that they suffer from neglect from the government and also sort of sectarian — sectarian incitement from — from the clergy in Saudi Arabia.

    So, there is already this sort of festering tension between — between the Shia minority and the government.

    And I think that this is something that might — might make that worse, certainly.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Is this something to try and fire up the Shia base, to try and topple the Sunni kingdom from inside?

  • ERIN CUNNINGHAM:

    I am not sure if that is something that the Islamic State would — would be interested in doing, or if they have the skills or the intelligence to do something like that.

    But I believe that, as long as there are tensions, as long as people inside Saudi Arabia and the government are afraid of Islamic State attacks, then that works to their advantage.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And this is, of course, the site of two of Islam's most holy cities, Mecca and Medina.

    You can't have an Islamic state or a caliphate without those two very important sites, right?

  • ERIN CUNNINGHAM:

    Absolutely.

    I mean, it is very symbolic and very important. I mean, even al-Qaida had Saudi Arabia as a primary target for — for their own attacks.

    So, I think that, if the Islamic State can carry out attacks inside Saudi Arabia, then certainly they will, because it is a propaganda victory for them, even if they can't get inside to take territory.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Erin Cunningham of The Washington Post joining us via Skype from Cairo tonight, thanks so much.

  • ERIN CUNNINGHAM:

    Thank you.

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