(WASHINGTON – May 10, 2003) – Three Shia places of worship in Tarout Island in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province have been torched by unknown assailants during the past week, the Saudi Institute has learned.

The historical Prophet Alkhoder mosque was the first to be torched on Monday night
(May 4). On Wednesday, the Shaikh Al’aa Mosque and Al-Saif hussainya were torched.

“Hussainya” are traditional Shia community centers where memorials, weddings and social parties take place. They are named after Imam Hussain, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

A local, who wanted to be identified only by his first name Mohamed, reported that the fires were started after gasoline had been poured on the doors and windows of the mosques.

In a phone interview with Saudi Institute on Saturday, he said Alkhoder mosque, which is located among the local palm gardens, lost most of its rugs in the fire. However, the historic building itself was spared from being gutted by locals who rushed to extinguish the flames.  Mohammed added that local fire engines did not try to put out the flames.

It is not clear if the attacks are connected to a petition signed by 450 leading members of the Shia community, who submitted a petition to Crown Prince Abdullah on April 30 demanding their political, economic and religious rights.

A local Shia leader, who asked not to be identified further, said that he suspected the government secret service to be behind the attacks. They wanted to send a strong message to the Shia not to be as vocal about their rights in the wake of the fall of Saddam’s regime in Iraq, he said.

Shaikh Fawzi Al-Saif, whose family owns the targeted hussainya, was questioned by police before the attacks because he had called on locals to raise funds to help the Iraqi people. The caretaker of the Al-Saif hussainy, AbdulAlali Al-Saif, was questioned after the fire.

During the past month, Saudi Arabia’s Shia community in Qateef and Ahsa has collected food and medical supplies for the Iraqis, which has been sent via Kuwait.

Several international media outlets – including The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Al-Jazeera – have recently published stories highlighting the way Saudi Arabia’s Shia are fighting for their rights.

Attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Shia have been increasing over the past few months.

Four Shia students from Al-Qudaih were permanently expelled from Jubail Industrial College, also in the Eastern Province, following a fight with several Wahhabi students, who reportedly assaulted them and their Shia religious practices.

A Shia cemetery in Anaak was desecrated two months ago by unknown perpetrators.
Calls for violence against Shia’s have also increased in the wake of the US-led victory in Iraq. Last month, Wahhabi Shaikh Naser Al-Omar renewed his call to confiscate Shia mosques and hussaniya, to force Shia to convert to Wahhabi Islam, and to arrest all their religious leaders