ISIS Targeting Saudi Arabia

Over the July 4 weekend, three suicide bombs in three different Saudi cities rattled the country and observers of the Saudi kingdom. No group has claimed responsibility yet (perhaps showing a newly nuanced media strategy for ISIS), but the culprit is likely ISIS.

Two of the targets made immediate sense for ISIS to target, a Shia-majority city (remember, ISIS is Sunni and believes Shia Islam to be heresy) and the US embassy (Shia and nonbelievers are both pretty bad to ISIS). The third target, however, a parking lot near holy shrines in Medina, seemed far less likely.

Actually though, while ISIS may have miscalculated the unifying effect of targeting one of the holiest places in Islam, the logic behind the attack makes a sort of sense. Much of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic legitimacy rests on its protection of the two holy places, open for all Muslims to visit. Last year’s deadly stampede hurt this reputation (particularly with Iran), and ISIS is determined to further erode this claim to legitimacy, especially as ISIS already considers Saudi Arabia an enemy for joining in Western efforts to target the “caliphate”. By showing that a suicide bomber could get so close to the holy places, Saudi Arabia’s reputation as a guardian tarnishes further. It remains to be seen how the Muslim world and Saudi Arabia will react as more details become clear, but for now, these three attacks certainly show an escalation in ISIS’ anti-Saudi actions.

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