Huge crowds attend mass funeral in Saudi Arabia's Qatif region
Huge crowds joined a mass funeral in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province on Monday, to bury the victims of a bombing attack on a mosque last week.
Activists told Middle East Eye that up to 500,000 joined the three-hour procession in the mainly Shiite region of Qatif.
Twenty-four people were killed on 22 May when a lone suicide bomber entered the Imam Ali mosque in Qudaih village and detonated an explosive belt.
A Shiite imam led the funeral prayer in a marketplace in Qatif on Monday afternoon, as a breeze carried the fragrance of the herb placed on prayer mats upon which the bodies lay.
The bodies were then carried on litters decked with flowers in a final procession towards the cemetery in Qudaih village, where the attack took place on Friday.
The three-hour funeral began at 330pm (1330).
As mourners gathered to join the funeral procession, people carried banners that read: “We demand the government stops sectarian discrimination.”
The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack and promised more “black days” ahead for Saudi Arabia’s Shiite community, who make up 10-15 percent of the country’s 28 million population.
Locals in Qudaih held a protest on Saturday to denounce the targeting of the Shiite community. Activists told Middle East Eye that Shiite Saudis, who have long complained of government discrimination, want to be treated equally by the kingdom’s authorities.
“We demand an end to hatred and Takfirism (accusations of apostasy) against Shiites,” Sayed Mohammed, a Qudaih resident and community activist, said by telephone from Qudaih. “The people of Saudi Arabia are one. We demand our rights as citizens.”
“The Takfirism did not begin with the person that committed the attack on Friday. The real problem is the preachers who say that Shiites are not Muslims, the curriculum that teaches children from the first year of primary school that Shiites are not Muslims – these opinions are also being spread by media outlets.”
The attack was the deadliest seen in Saudi Arabia for years. In the aftermath of the bombing authorities promised to track down those behind it, and have since arrested 21 people accused of being part of a “terror cell”.
King Salman has denounced the killings as a “heinous crime” and a “terrorist assault that goes against Islamic values”.
Qudaih community activist Mohammed told Middle East Eye that Saudi Arabia’s leaders must foster a more inclusive society.
“We [the Shiite community] need to be portrayed as brothers, as human beings, deserving of equal rights. We are not just brothers in religion [with the Sunnis]; we are brothers in humanity,” he said.