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5 killed, 9 hurt in shooting attack on Saudi Shia gathering: Ministry

The gunman, thought to be an IS supporter, was killed by police in Dammam in the restive Eastern Province
Saudi Shia worshipers gather in a hussainiya, a Shia hall used for commemorations, in the mainly Shia coastal town of Qatif, 400 km east of Riyadh, on 16 October 2015 (AFP)

A gunman shot dead five people at a Shia gathering in eastern Saudi Arabia on Friday before police shot him dead, the interior ministry said.

A group claiming affiliation with the Islamic State (IS) group said it carried out the attack.

"As result of his shooting, five citizens ... were killed, including a woman. Nine others were wounded," an interior ministry spokesman said in a statement.

He said that at about 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) on Friday a suspect with an automatic weapon "started to shoot randomly" at al-Haidaria hussainiya in the Saihat area of Qatif city.

Police intervened and opened fire, killing the suspect, the spokesman said without giving details about the attacker.

"The situation is still under investigation," he said.

A group calling itself Islamic State-Bahrain State said in a statement that one of its "soldiers," Shughaa al-Dosari, "attacked a Shia infidel temple with an automatic weapon" in Saihat.

It said: "infidels will not be safe in the island of Mohammed".

The shooting, in the Qatif area of Eastern Province, came two days after the start of commemorations of Ashura, one of the holiest occasions for the Shia faith, a minority in Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia.

During Ashura last year, gunmen killed seven Shia worshippers, including children, in the eastern town of al-Dalwa.

The interior ministry said the suspects in that unprecedented attack were linked to the IS group.

A witness to Friday's attack, Ali al-Bahrani, told AFP that "a gunman began randomly shooting at people attending a sermon". 

Since the start of Ashura commemorations Shia security volunteers had been checking people trying to enter houses of worship, Nemr said.

Security has been tightened at Shiite facilities since May when separate suicide mosque bombings killed 25 people.

Both attacks were claimed by IS, a hardline armed Sunni group that considers Shia Muslims to be heretics.

Later on Friday, Shia Saudis held a protest march in Saihat condemning the attack.

Most Saudi Shias live in the oil-rich east, and many complain of marginalisation. 

The Ashura commemorations - which peak late next week - mark the killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, by the army of the Caliph Yazid in 680 AD. That event lies at the heart of Islam's divide into Shia and Sunni sects.

IS, which has also targeted Saudi police, controls swathes of neighbouring Iraq and Syria where it has carried out widespread abuses.

Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Gulf neighbours last year joined a United States-led military coalition bombing IS in Syria.

In July, the interior ministry said it had broken up an IS-linked network and arrested more than 430 suspects involved in attacks and plots.

Earlier Friday, Saudi Arabia's top cleric, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, named IS as an enemy of Islam.

"The reality is that they are shedding Muslim blood and destroying Islam. There is no good in them," he said during weekly prayers at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh.

"They are neither an Islamic state nor mujahedeen or Islamic mercenaries. Their faith is falsehood ... their reality is bloodshed and looting."