Three Saudi soldiers, including a senior commander, were killed close to the Iraqi border on Monday when unknown gunmen attacked a security patrol, the kingdom's Interior Ministry said.
A group of four armed men shot at the troops after being caught attempting to cross into Saudi Arabia from Iraq near the northern city of Arar, according to a ministry of interior statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. The patrol returned fire, killing one of the men, while another detonated an explosive belt. The two remaining attackers fled, but were later surrounded by troops in the Arar Valley area, where one was killed and another blew himself up, the ministry said.
Three members of the border patrol were killed in the course of the fighting, including senior commander Brig. Gen. Awdah Mouawad Al-Balawi, who led forces in the region, and Corporal Tariq Mohammed Halawi and Private Yahya Ahmed Najmi. Two others were injured and are currently in a stable condition, the Interior Ministry said, adding that weapons — including automatic rifles, pistols, hand grenades and explosive belts — were found at the sites of the attacks, along with banknotes.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but in November Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (IS) Sunni extremist group, called for attacks on Saudi Arabia in revenge for the kingdom's role in the US-led anti-IS coalition conducting airstrikes against the jihadists in both Iraq and Syria.
This is the first attack of its kind, however, despite a major IS presence in Iraq's western Anbar province close the Saudi border. Shells were fired at the Arar area in July, but there were no casualties.
IS currently controls large sections of Iraq after launching a shock offensive from the areas of Syria it controls in mid-2014. Riyadh has repeatedly reinforced its Iraqi border since then, despite having had major defenses in place since the US-Iraq war. Thousands of troops were deployed to perimeter in July. In September, authorities unveiled a complex fence system to the north, including radar and surveillance cameras. Then, in November, residents close to the border were forcibly evacuated in order to broaden a pre-existing buffer zone to 12 miles.
Saudi authorities have detained dozens on terrorism charges in recent weeks. Authorities blamed IS sympathizers for a November attack which killed seven Shiites in an eastern village. In the same month, three people were arrested over the shooting a Danish national in November and a suspect was detained for allegedly stabbing a Canadian citizen in a mall.
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