Saihat, Eastern province, Saudi Arabia Image Credit: Google maps

Manama: A gunman opened fire at a Shiite gathering in eastern Saudi Arabia on Friday, killing five people, state TV said.

"A man who opened fire at a 'hussainiya' in Saihat was killed," Al-Ekhbariya news channel reported.

A hussainiya is a Shiite hall used for commemorations.

Al Arabiya TV reported that five people were killed in the attack, but it was the not immediately clear if that number includes the gunman.

Al-Ekhbariya reported that the attacker was 20 years old and his motives were unknown.

The shooting, in the Qatif area of Eastern Province, came two days after the start of commemorations of Ashura, one of the holiest occasions of the Shiite faith.

During Ashura last year, gunmen killed seven Shiite worshippers, including children, in the eastern town of Al-Dalwa.

The interior ministry said the suspects in the unprecedented attack were linked to the Daesh (Islamic State) jihadist group.

It was reported that Saudi security forces shot dead the gunman.

Stopped at a checkpoint

A resident reached by telephone told Reuters that an attacker approached the meeting hall in a taxi but was stopped at a checkpoint manned by volunteers protecting the site.

Police arrived and a gun battle broke out, which the resident said injured several people and left the shooter dead.

Amateur video shared by local activists from inside the hall showed worshippers in flowing black and white robes, including young children, crowd toward the entrance to hear the gunfire before retreating in fear.

The ultra-violent militant group Islamic State has launched a series of deadly attacks inside the kingdom in recent months, aiming to stir sectarian confrontation on the Arabian peninsula to bring about the overthrow of Gulf states' ruling dynasties.

A suicide bomber killed at least 15 people in an attack on a mosque used by members of a local security force in southwest Saudi Arabia in August, and two separate suicide bomb attacks in May on Shi'ite mosques killed 25 worshippers.

Since the attacks, volunteer security guards have sprung up around holy sites in the largely Shi'ite Eastern province of the kingdom, whose rulers follow a strict version of Sunni Islam.

Some local activists have accused security forces of not doing enough to thwart the assaults, a charge officials deny.

Saudiauthorities said in July that they had rounded up 431 Islamic State suspects and had foiled numerious plots to attack places of worship and security forces.

(With inputs from Agencies)