RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi security forces said Saturday they disrupted a plot to attack the Grand Mosque at Mecca, home to the holiest site in Islam, just as the fasting month of Ramadan concludes.
The Interior Ministry said it launched raids in Jiddah province, as well as two areas in Mecca itself, including the Ajyad Al-Masafi neighborhood, located near the Grand Mosque.
There, police said they engaged in a shootout at a three-story house a suicide bomber, who blew himself up and led to the building’s collapse. He was killed while the blast wounded six foreigners and five members of security forces, according to the Interior Ministry’s statement. Five others were arrested, it said.
Saudi state television aired footage after the raid near the Grand Mosque, showing police and rescue personnel running through the neighborhood’s narrow streets. The blast demolished the building, its walls crushing a parked car as what appeared to be shrapnel and bullet holes peppered nearby structures.
The Interior Ministry “confirms that this terrorist network, whose terrorist plan was thwarted, violated, in what they would have perpetrated, all sanctities by targeting the security of the Grand Mosque, the holiest place on Earth.”
“They obeyed their evil and corrupt self-serving schemes managed from abroad whose aim is to destabilize the security and stability of this blessed country,” the statement said.
The ministry did not name the group involved in the attack. The ultraconservative Sunni kingdom battled an al-Qaida insurgency for years and more recently has faced attacks from a local branch of the Islamic State group.
The disrupted attack comes at a sensitive time in Saudi Arabia as King Salman earlier this week short-circuited the kingdom’s succession by making his son, Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to the throne. The newly appointed crown prince, 31 years old, is the architect of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen against Shiite rebels, now stalemated. He has also offered aggressive comments about the kingdom confronting Shiite power Iran.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have cut diplomatic ties to neighboring Qatar and are trying to isolate the energy-rich tiny country over its alleged support of militants and ties to Iran. Qatar long has denied those allegations.
The Grand Mosque has been the target of militants before. In 1979, a group of militants seized the mosque, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that Muslims pray toward five times a day, for two weeks as they demanded the royal family abdicate the throne. The official toll of the assault and subsequent fighting to retake the mosque from hundreds of armed militants was over 100 people killed and 500 wounded.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
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