RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it had arrested a man suspected of killing a policeman and injuring another in a shooting last month in a restive area populated by members of the kingdom’s Shi’ite Muslim minority.
Qatif has been the focal point of protests by Shi’ites against what they see as persistent discrimination in the country where the government and most people practise a strict form of Sunni Islam that regards Shi’ism as heretical. The government has denied the accusations of discrimination.
More than 12 people have been killed since November in demonstrations in the area in Eastern Province. Most were young Shi’ite men killed in what Saudi Arabia said were exchanges of fire. But local activists said some were shot during peaceful protests.
Hussein Al Muslim was arrested on Saturday in a house in Qatif over the policeman shooting while two other wanted men, Hassan al-Darwish and Hassan Al Mubirik, were detained at another location in the area, state news agency SPA said, citing an Interior Ministry spokesman.
“None of the captured people or the members of the security forces were injured,” added the spokesman. He did not say why al-Darwish And Al Mubirik had been detained.
Police officer Hussein Zabani was shot dead while on patrol in Qatif on August 4 and one of the gunmen who opened fire on his patrol, a local man, died in the ensuing shoot-out, the Interior Ministry said.
However a local activist disputed the official account of the incident, citing residents who said security forces had mistakenly fired on each other. The activist asked to remain anonymous for fear of arrest.
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have both accused Shi’ite regional power Iran of fomenting unrest among members of the Shi’ite sect in both countries, which Tehran denies.
The Saudi government in January issued a list of 23 residents of Qatif who it said were responsible for attacks on security forces, acting at the behest of “a foreign power”, widely understood to mean Iran.
Shi’ites in Qatif, who often raise the Bahraini flag in shows of solidarity with their co-religionists in the tiny Gulf Arab country, have repeatedly said the protests are not organised by Iran.
Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Pravin Char