DUBAI: Saudi security forces killed a young protester and wounded three in the kingdom’s oil-producing Eastern Province, home to a large Shia Muslim minority, websites and activists said on Friday.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s No. 1 oil exporter, is sensitive to any Shia unrest in Eastern Province because of what it says are concerns it could be fomented by non-Arab Shia power Iran to destabilize the Gulf region. Tehran denies involvement.
The Shia website www.rasid.com said Saudi security forces opened heavy fire late on Thursday after demonstrators threw stones at a police vehicle in Awamiya, a village in Eastern Province.
It also showed a file picture of 22-year-old Essam Mohamed Abu Abdallah and said he was killed by gunfire from security forces even though, according to an email from an activist sent to Reuters, the protest was peaceful.
The Rasid website also said security forces closed down the entrances to the village after clashes between villagers and security forces. The Saudi interior ministry was not immediately available for comment.
Saudi Arabia’s Shia population is mostly based in two oasis districts of the Eastern Province – Qatif on the Gulf coast where Awamiya is located, and Al-Ahsa southwest of the provincial capital Al-Khobar.
The Sunni Muslim-ruled kingdom says it has 1.3 million Shias in a total population of 19 million. Human rights groups say there are around 2 million Shias in Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this month, Riyadh ordered the arrest of 23 Shia Muslims in Eastern Province held responsible for unrest. Saudi Arabia accused the 23 of serving the agenda of a foreign power, usually a reference to Iran.