Qatif protests metamorphose into organised attacks on security forces
RIYADH - A gunman was killed during an attack on a police station as four Saudi policemen were wounded in a separate assault on their patrols in the kingdom's Shiite-populated east, state media reported.
"Four masked gunmen on motorbikes entered Al-Awamiya police centre where one of them threw a petrol bomb while the rest opened fire at the station," interior ministry spokesman Mansur al-Turki said, quoted by SPA news agency.
"The guards dealt with them, killing one while the rest (of the assailants) fled," said Turki.
The attack in the Shiite town of Al-Awamiya took place on Friday evening, less than a week after two protesters were killed in clashes with police in Qatif district following the arrest of a prominent Shiite cleric.
In those clashes, on Sunday night, activists said dozens of protesters were wounded when police fired on a demonstration against the arrest of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr whom the authorities have described as "instigator of sedition."
Turki said the security forces would not tolerate "rioters, especially those who are armed," and would hold responsible anyone who does not help in handing them over or offers them refuge.
In a separate statement on SPA, the spokesman announced that "two security forces' patrols came under gunfire from masked armed men on motorbikes in the town of Saihat, wounding four members of the security forces."
Qatif district, where both towns are located, has witnessed several protests initially triggered in February 2011 after an outbreak of violence between Shiite pilgrims and religious police in the holy city of Medina.
The protests escalated after the kingdom led a force of Gulf troops into neighbouring Bahrain to help crush a month-long Shiite-led uprising last year against that country's Sunni monarchy.
Saudi Arabia's estimated two million Shiites, who frequently complain of marginalisation, live mostly in the east, where the vast majority of the OPEC kingpin's huge oil reserves lie.