A bomb blast struck a World War I commemoration attended by French and other diplomats in the Saudi city of Jeddah Wednesday, wounding at least two people in the second such assault in weeks.
The attack at a non-Muslim cemetery comes less than a month after a guard at the French consulate in Jeddah was wounded by a knife-wielding Saudi citizen, amid anger among Muslim nations over satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Diplomats from France, Greece, Italy, Britain and the United States were in attendance at the Armistice Day commemoration ceremony in the Red Sea port city, according to a joint statement from their embassies that condemned the “cowardly attack”.
“The annual ceremony commemorating the end of World War I at the non-Muslim cemetery in Jeddah, attended by several consulates, including that of France, was the target of an IED (improvised explosive device) attack this morning, which injured several people,” France’s foreign ministry said.
The bombing, which an eyewitness said left one of the panic-stricken attendees drenched in blood, comes as French President Emmanuel Macron has sought to assuage Muslim anger over the cartoons printed by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
A Greek policeman residing in the kingdom was among those wounded, a Greek diplomatic source told AFP.
A British citizen was also believed to have been wounded.
A Saudi policeman suffered minor injuries, state-owned Al-Ekhbariya television added, citing the governor of Mecca region, where Jeddah is located.
“(Saudi) security services will launch an investigation into an incident of aggression during a gathering of a number of consuls in Jeddah,” Ekhbariya said.
– ‘Covered in blood’ –
The bomb triggered panic as it went off while the French consul was delivering a speech at the ceremony, according to eyewitness Nadia Chaaya.
“At the end of the speech we heard an explosion. We didn’t quite understand it at first, but we then realised that we were the target,” Chaaya told France’s BFMTV.
“We were panicking and feared there could be a second explosion. We left the cemetery… and everyone went their separate ways.”
Mohammed Belmaziz, another eyewitness, said amid the pandemonium and screams he saw one person whose face was “covered in blood”.
Roads leading up to the cemetery in central Jeddah were blocked by Saudi traffic police, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
While condemning the “shameful” attack, the embassies of the countries involved in the commemoration lauded “brave Saudi first responders who assisted those at the scene”.
The European Union delegation in the kingdom also thanked Saudi emergency services, while urging local authorities to hold a “prompt and thorough investigation” of the attack.
– ‘Extreme vigilance’ –
The French embassy in Riyadh has urged its nationals in Saudi Arabia to exercise “extreme vigilance” since the attack at the Jeddah consulate on October 29, the same day a knife-wielding man killed three people at a church in Nice in southern France.
Several countries are marking the 102nd anniversary of the armistice signed by Germany and Allied countries to end the war.
Macron has vigorously defended the right to publish cartoons viewed as offensive by some, including caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
The Charlie Hebdo cartoons were shown by French history teacher Samuel Paty to pupils in a class on free speech, leading to his beheading outside Paris on October 16 following an online campaign by parents angry over his choice of lesson material.
Macron’s stance angered many Muslims, prompting protests in several countries at which portraits of France’s president were burnt, and a campaign to boycott French products.
Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia — home to Islam’s holiest sites — has criticised the cartoons, saying it rejected “any attempt to link Islam and terrorism” but stopped short of condemning the French leadership.
Riyadh also “strongly” condemned last month’s attack in Nice.
On Tuesday, Macron hosted a summit of European leaders to plot a joint approach on combating Islamist radicalism after four people were killed in a shooting rampage in the heart of Vienna last week.