Mohammed bin Salman promised Thursday to hit extremists with an “iron fist”, the day after the Islamic state group alleged a bomb attack on a gathering of Western diplomats.
A bomb explosion struck a World War I memorial in a non-Muslim cemetery in Jeddah on Wednesday just two weeks after a French consulate guard in the Red Sea city was wounded by a knife-wielding Saudi citizen.
The attacks, which underscore Muslims ‘anger over French satirical caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, come as Saudi Arabia prepares for the G20 leaders’ summit later this month – the first to be hosted by an Arab nation.
“We will continue to deal with extremist … behaviors and ideas,” said Prince Mohammed in an address to the Shura Council, the government’s top advisory body.
“We will continue to strike with an iron fist against anyone who wants to compromise our security and stability,” he said, according to the minutes of his speech, which were published by the official Saudi press agency.
Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, warned those who attempted jihadist acts of “painful and severe punishment”.
At least two people were injured in Wednesday’s attack in Jeddah, including a Greek police officer and a Saudi official.
A British citizen was also believed to have been wounded.
The Islamic State Group took responsibility for the bombing Thursday, saying it was a protest against the cartoons printed by the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Diplomats from France, Greece, Italy, Great Britain and the United States attended the ceasefire commemoration ceremony in Jeddah, delivered their messages and condemned the attack as “cowardly”.
A statement from ISIS’s propaganda arm Amaq said the attack was “mainly aimed at the French consul”.
The group did not provide any evidence of their involvement.
In another incident the day after the attack on Jeddah, Dutch police arrested a man when multiple shots were fired at the Saudi embassy in The Hague, causing damage but no injury.
It was not clear whether Thursday’s incident was related to the attacks in the kingdom.
– “Extreme vigilance” –
The warning followed an attack on the Jeddah consulate on October 29. On the same day, a man with knives killed three people in a church in Nice, southern France.
French President Emmanuel Macron has vigorously defended the right to publish cartoons, but he has also tried to allay Muslims anger over his utterances.
Macron’s stance has sparked protests in several countries where portraits of the French President were burned and a campaign to boycott French products.
Saudi Arabia – home of the holiest places in Islam – criticized the cartoons and “rejected any attempt to combine Islam and terrorism”.
In his speech, Prince Mohammed said he hoped “the world will stop attacking religious symbols under the motto of freedom of expression” as this creates “a fertile environment for extremism and terrorism”.
Saudi Arabia, long accused of exporting its ultra-conservative Wahhabi Sunni doctrine around the world, is itself a victim of domestic terrorist attacks.
Prince Mohammed, who pledged Saudi Arabia to return to an “open, moderate Islam” in 2017, has sought to reverse the influence of the ultra-conservative religious establishment.
“Extremism will no longer be tolerated in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Prince Mohammed in his speech.
The heir to the throne has curbed the influence of the once powerful religious police by allowing mixed music concerts, cinemas and other entertainment options that appeal to a mostly young population.
At the same time, the prince has launched a comprehensive crackdown on dissent and free speech and arrested activists, clergy, journalists and members of the royal family.
Saudi Arabia is also grappling with a severe coronavirus-related economic downturn, which has sparked unpopular austerity measures, including tripling its sales tax and suspending a monthly allowance for government employees.
Prince Mohammed acknowledged the “great pain” caused by the austerity measures and spoke of the government’s efforts to boost high unemployment and fight rampant corruption.