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Tue 13 Jun 2017 08:55 PM

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Saudis killed in car blast 'wanted' for police murders

DNA testing identifies Fadil al-Hamada and Mohammed al-Suwaimil as the men who died on June 1 in Qatif city

Saudis killed in car blast 'wanted' for police murders

Two Saudi suspects killed when their car exploded in a mainly Shiite district of the kingdom were wanted for murdering police officers, the interior ministry said on Tuesday.

DNA testing identified Fadil al-Hamada and Mohammed al-Suwaimil, both Saudis, as the men who died on June 1 in Qatif city.

Qatif and its environs have seen criminal violence as well as protests among the Sunni-dominated kingdom's Shiite minority.

A rights group alleged that authorities "extra judicially executed" Hamada and Suwaimil, and also used "indiscriminate and excessive force" this week against civilians in the Qatif district town of Awamiya.

The ministry said Hamad and others were involved in the killings of 10 security forces members over the past two years in the Dammam and Qatif areas.

Suwaimil was linked to two of those killings, a ministry statement said.

Officers took "necessary action" after spotting their stolen vehicle, the ministry said at the time, without detailing how it was stopped.

"As a result, it caught fire and exploded," killing the two occupants, the ministry said.

The vehicle was found to contain weapons and materiel which exploded, the ministry said on Tuesday.

But the Berlin-based European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) issued a statement accusing authorities of killing the men.

"It is the first time that the Saudi authorities have resorted to explosives to extra-judicially execute people in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia," it said, without adding how it believed the blast occurred.

A witness told AFP there was a "very huge" explosion.

Last month, violence escalated around a redevelopment project in the old Almosara section of Awamiya, a Qatif district town.

Three UN rights experts called on Saudi Arabia to halt demolition of the neighbourhood which, they said, reportedly caused "injury, deaths and material losses to the civilians".

The interior ministry said criminals engaged in the drug and arms trade were involved in the Almosara unrest, which earlier led to the death of a policeman -- killed by a rocket-propelled grenade -- and at least two civilians.

Heavy shooting

A homemade explosive device on Sunday killed a police major, the latest victim in Almosara.

Since then, security forces "have been resorting to excessive and indiscriminate force by firing directly at civilian targets in the neighbourhoods and on the streets adjacent to the Awamiya Police Station," ESOHR said on Tuesday.

It detailed gunshot injuries to five civilians, but said many more had been wounded. Residents late Tuesday told AFP that one of the injured had died.

Asked about the allegations, the Interior Ministry directed enquiries to the Foreign Ministry. Authorities have spoken of "foreign plans" to destabilise security, a reference to Riyadh's rival, Shiite-majority Iran.

Two Awamiya residents contacted on Tuesday night by AFP said they had come under fire after the major's death.

"I was going to be killed," one man said, recounting a brush with death as bullets "hit the ground around the car" while he drove home.

He said he turned off the car's lights and sped away but, nearby, the rear of his brother-in-law's car was hit by gunfire.

They were near the police station, the man said, blaming security forces.

"No one (was) there, only them." 

A second resident told AFP he heard "heavy shooting" near the police station as he drove home from work in the early hours of Monday morning.

The man said he tried to turn the car around but a bullet hit the back door and he is "100 percent" sure it came from security forces.

Gunfire continued late Tuesday, residents said.