ISIS Strikes on Shi’ites Add Fuel to Sectarian Tensions in Saudi Arabia

Tensions Were Already Soaring Since Beginning of Yemen War

Back-to-back Fridays saw ISIS suicide bombing attacks against Shi’ite mosques in eastern Saudi Arabia, where already soaring sectarian tensions are boiling over, and government promises to increase security in Shi’ite neighborhoods are ringing terribly hollow.

While ISIS certainly never needs any special excuse to attack Shi’ites, the timing of these strikes appears to have been designed to maximize the impact, coming amid rising anger surrounding a sectarian war Saudi Arabia is waging against Shi’ites in neighboring Yemen.

That’s putting all the more pressure on Saudi Arabia to try to placate the important minority, which lives predominantly in the nation’s most oil-rich regions. This comes at a time, however, when there is a lot of sectarian unrest on both sides, in no small part because of ISIS at home and abroad, and parts of the Sunni majority are viewing the Shi’ites with distrust.

In picking its spots in Saudi Arabia, ISIS has put the kingdom in a tough spot at a tough time, and has the government trying to impose harsh new hate crime laws to try to tone down the rhetoric. That might calm public discourse, but private unrest is probably going to continue to grow apace.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of