Dubai: At least 27 were killed and many people wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shiite Muslim mosque packed with some 2,000 worshippers during Friday prayers in an unprecedented attack in Kuwait city, witnesses said.
Two of the victims in the attack were Iranian nationals, Iran said on Saturday after condemning the atrocity and others in Tunisia and France. At least 202 people were wounded in the attack, Health Minister Ali Al Obaidi said.
Car owner detained
Kuwait has detained the owner of the vehicle that took the suicide bomber to the mosque where he detonated explosives, killing 27 people, state media reported.
The interior ministry said it was now looking for the driver of the Japanese-made car, who left the mosque immediately after Friday's bombing, Kuwait television and the official Kuna news agency reported.
“The blast was meant to tear asunder the fabric of the well-knitted Kuwaiti society by fomenting sectarian divisions and conflict, but that will not happen as Kuwaitis value their unity and societal solidarity,” said Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad in a statement carried by the state news agency.
Kuwait has declared Saturday a day of mourning.
Daesh claims attack
Daesh claimed what was the first-ever bombing of a Shiite mosque in Kuwait and the first terror attack there since January 2006.
The Daesh-affiliated group in Saudi Arabia, calling itself Najd Province, said a militant who went by the nom de guerre Abu Sulaiman Al Muwahhid carried out the attack on the mosque, which it claimed was spreading Shiite teachings among Sunni Muslims.
It named the bomber as Abu Sulaiman Al Muwahhid, adding that he was armed with a suicide belt, and targeted the “temple of the rejectionists”, using a pejorative reference to Shiites.
Daesh considers Shiites to be heretics. Kuwaiti media identified the bomber as Khaled Thamer Jaber Al Shammari, born in 1989, shown in the video above.
Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah said on Friday that a suicide bombing at a Shi'ite Muslim mosque in the capital was an attempt to threaten the country's national unity.
"This incident targets our internal front, our national unity," Shaikh Jaber told Reuters after visiting the wounded at the Emiri hospital. "But this is too difficult for them and we are much stronger than that."
Kuwaiti parliament member Khalil Al Salih said worshippers were kneeling in prayer when a loud explosion ripped through, damaging the walls and ceiling.
He said a suicide bomber who looked to be under 30 years of age caused the explosion and that he saw several bodies covered in blood on the floor.
They identified the target as the Imam Sadiq mosque.
Emir visits mosque
Kuwait’s emir, Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, immediately visited the site, and footage on state-run Kuwait Television showed him visibly moved by the scenes of carnage.
The television showed footage of massive destruction caused by the blast, and people posted online horrific pictures of the dead and wounded.
The Kuwaiti cabinet went into an emergency meeting to discuss the incident, as the interior ministry raised the level of alert and mobilised all security forces.
Kuwaiti media reported that a state of emergency was announced in several hospitals around the mosque. Member of parliament Saleh Ashoor called on Kuwaitis to remain calm and “rally around the leadership”.
An old man in a blood-soaked dishdasha following the deadly blast at the mosque.
“Today we are all united in the face of terrorism and takfirist,” he said, referring to radical Muslims who declare Shiites as apostates. He also called on the government to “translate its words into deeds” and crack down on “those who declare Shiites as infidels and Zoroastrians and refer to their mosques as temples”.
Friday midday prayers are the most crowded of the week, and attendance increases during the Ramadan, which started last week.
Some of the injured inside the mosque hit by a suicide bomber on Friday
The Gulf nation, which has a mixed population of Sunnis and Shiites, has enjoyed relative security and stability, despite often turbulent parliamentary politics.
The UAE has strongly condemned the mosque attack in Kuwait. Bahraini foreign minister Shaikh Khaled Bin Ahmad also condemned the attack, saying on Twitter that it “is not sectarianism, but a war on Islam and a calculated [attempt at sowing] discord [among Muslims]”.
“The presence of [separate] mosques for Shiites and Sunnis is the bigger innovation. This is sectarianism par excellence,” he tweeted.
Prominent Salafist figure and former member of parliament Walid Tabtabai offered his condolences on Twitter but said that he suspected that Iran was behind the attack.
“The attack was the work of the people behind the Al Anood and Al Qadeeh (Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia), and this party has been infiltrated by Iranian intelligence to create sectarian discord."
Kuwaiti Shiites make up around one-third of the country’s native population of 1.3 million people. The interior ministry said it launched a full investigation into the incident.
Three weeks ago, the ministry said it has raised the level of security around mosques following the bombings in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
The bombing was strongly condemned by political groups, organisations and lawmakers. The mainstream Sunni group, the Islamic Constitutional Movement condemned what it called “the low criminal attack targeting the (Shiite) mosque.”
Kuwait’s leading Sunni cleric, Sheikh Ajeel al-Nashmi, said on Twitter that the bombing is a “criminal act aimed at sowing seeds of discord, and undoubtedly Shiites and Sunnis will foil the terrorists’ plot.”
Independent MP Sultan Al-Shemmari called on the government to “hit with an iron fist” against the “terrorists.”
In the past few weeks, Kuwaiti courts have tried a number of people on charges of being Daesh members and sentenced at least one of them to several years in jail.
'We couldn't see anything'
“We couldn’t see anything, so we went straight to the wounded and tried to carry them out. We left the dead,” said witness Hassan Al Haddad, 21, who said he saw several dead bodies.
Another witness, Ahmad Al Shawaf, said worshippers were standing shoulder to shoulder in group prayer when the explosion struck near the door of the mosque, behind some of the worshippers.
Al Shawaf said the explosion took place near the end of a second prayer that is traditional to Shiites and that follows the main midday Friday prayer.
He said witnesses standing behind him said they saw a man walk in, stand in the back with other congregants and detonate his device.
Mohammed Al Faili, 32, said that his 70-year-old father was killed in the explosion and two of his brothers were also wounded.
Speaking to the AP by telephone, he said he was not at the mosque at the time of the explosion but was heading to the morgue to identify his father’s body.