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Leading Saudi cleric survives assassination attempt in Philippines

Sheikh Ayed al-Qarni was giving a lecture in the Philippines when he was shot and injured by an unknown gunman
A file photo of leading Saudi cleric Sheikh Ayed al-Qarni provided by Saudi media (SPA)

A leading Saudi cleric was shot and injured at a public event in the Philippines on Tuesday, according to Filipino authorities.

Al Arabiya quoted an unnamed Filipino official as saying Sheikh Ayed al-Qarni was “in a good condition” after being shot in the hand by an unknown gunman at Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga.

The official added that Filipino security forces shot dead the gunman.

"We pinned down the gunman. He's dead," Filipino spokesperson Helen Galvez told AFP. “We are investigating this incident.”

Galvez said the gunman used a .45-caliber pistol.

The cleric, who has over 12 million followers on Twitter, is being treated in hospital along with Sheikh Turki Assaegh, who is a preacher and an official with the Saudi embassy in the Philippines.

The shooting took place at 820pm local time (1220pm GMT), according to Filipino news website Rabbler.

Zamboanga is one of the largest cities in the southern Philippines, which has been home to a decades-long separatist rebellion by the mainly Catholic nation's Muslim minority.

Zamboanga has a mixed Christian and Muslim population, and has been a frequent target of attacks by local Muslim militant groups.

One of the nation's main Muslim rebel groups raided the city in 2013, triggering three weeks of clashes with security forces that left more than 200 people dead.

No information has been published regarding who may have carried out the attack.

However, J M Berger, who is a fellow with the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, suggested the Islamic State could be behind the assassination attempt.

Qarni was posting on Twitter moments before the attack, saying he was giving a lecture to a large audience.

Al Arabiya reported that Saudi authorities are sending a plane to the Philippines to bring the injured cleric back to the kingdom. 

Saudi media outlets described Qarni as a senior Islamic scholar. 

In his book "Awakening Islam," the French academic Stephane Lacroix included Qarni among "the most famous" Saudi preachers.

In 2012 Qarni was refused entry to the United States despite holding an American visa, and he was later told that he was on a “no fly” list.

The Sheikh has previously advocated religious war against American troops in Iraq and against the Israeli army.  

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