By Arab News
By MD. Al-Sulami and Sultan Al-Tamimi
Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, spokesman of the Interior Ministry, blamed foreign elements on Thursday for the clashes between security forces and rioters in the eastern city of Qatif that have claimed the lives of four people.
“The clashes were instigated by foreign elements,” the spokesman said while addressing a press conference in Riyadh. He said special security forces have been deployed in the city to deal with the situation and maintain security.
Al-Turki, while blaming foreign influence behind deviant groups, said that these groups are continuously escalating their activities and seeking ways to break the law.
“What is important is to deal with the current reality that is preserving peace in the area and the Kingdom. We do not want to name these groups or those behind them but what is vital at this time is that these people involved in the event are brought before the court and confess to who is supporting them,” he added.
Two people died and three wounded in an exchange of gunfire in Qatif on Wednesday following a string of attacks on security checkpoints during a funeral procession.
“These casualties have occurred following the exchange of gunfire with unknown criminal elements who have infiltrated the citizens’ ranks, and are firing from residential areas and narrow streets,” the ministry said in a statement late Wednesday night.
The ministry added: “The goal of those who provoke unrest is to achieve dubious aims dictated to them by their foreign masters.” It said the rioters had burned tires and blocked roads.
“The security forces in the area are fully authorized to deal with the situation and end these criminal actions,” it said and warned saboteurs in Qatif of stiff punishment.
Last month, the government pledged to use “an iron fist” after it said 14 people, including 11 policemen, had been wounded in an attack on a police station in Awamiya, a village outside Qatif town.
According to a security source, a number of security checkpoints and police vehicles came under fire during clashes in Awamiya on Oct. 3, 2011. “The rioters have resumed their gun attacks since Monday, resulting in the death of two citizens and injuring six others including a woman and two security officers,” the source said.
The ministry urged Qatif people to stop such criminal elements that try to undermine the Kingdom’s security and stability in order to save innocent people from falling victims of such clashes.
“We have been dealing with these criminal elements proportionately without causing any harm to ordinary citizens in the city,” said Gen. Al-Turki while answering a question.
He added that security forces are firmly dealing with these groups but while dealing with them they use extreme caution “because we fear for people’s safety.”
“These groups are using people as their shields. We do not want to be responsible for exposing people’s lives to danger.”
He highlighted the danger posed by the rioters as they sneak into residential areas and create division in society. “They also open fire from residential areas and farms,” he added.
Al-Turki said he had no knowledge of arms caches being discovered in the Eastern Province. “Security officers will seize such arms caches and storages if they get any information about them,” he added.
He said the criminal elements arrested in connection with the rioting would be produced in court. With regard the number of people arrested, Al-Turki said, “I cannot be specific about their number. I can say that some were released after questioning, but others were held for further questioning.”
Al-Turki warned these groups not to cross the red line. “Those who cross the line will be dealt with severely and with maximum force. There is enough police presence in the area to ensure security and to deal with riots, if any,” he added.
The Interior Ministry spokesman was critical of the use of guns in the neighborhoods, saying that “the most dangerous thing to happen in a locality is to fire weapons from walled areas.”
In addition to the veiled attacks, there were deliberate attacks with weapons, including machine guns, directed at the police, he added.
Al-Turki believed that the incident could be contained. He also called on people to be more responsible and provide the security forces with any information that could help them to determine those behind these incidents.
“We are cooperating with people in the Eastern Province and have urged people who have any information to submit it to the police or call 990,” he said, adding: “The informants will be guaranteed anonymity.”
When asked about the causes of deaths, Al-Turki said it is difficult to determine whether those who died were involved in the incidents.
“There are cases of dead and injured people that were brought to hospitals and left there. We cannot determine whether they actually participated in the incidents or were innocent bystanders,” he said, citing an example to augment his statement.
“There is the case of a woman who was hit by a bullet to her head and was treated at a hospital. It seems she was traveling with her husband in a car in one of the streets when, as I was told but I cannot confirm it, a bullet that hit a police car ricocheted toward their car and accidentally grazed her.”
When asked to name the foreign countries dabbling in the Kingdom’s internal affairs, Al-Turki was explicit: “I cannot name those countries, but I can say that we are a targeted country by many plots.”
He welcomed the media, whether local or international, to visit Qatif and other parts of the Kingdom. “All who need our help will receive it,” he stressed.