World

3 wounded in blast during WWI remembrance ceremony at Saudi cemetery

Three people were wounded Wednesday when an improvised explosive device targeted a ceremony of French, American, British, Italian and Greek officials commemorating the end of the First World War at a cemetery in the Saudi city of Jeddah, according to official statements.

French, U.S., British, Italian and Greek officials in attendance at cemetery for non-Muslim dead in Jeddah

A picture shows the outside of a non-Muslim cemetery in the Saudi city of Jeddah, where an explosion struck a First World War commemoration attended by European diplomats on Wednesday, leaving three people wounded. (AFP/Getty Images)

Three people were wounded Wednesday when an improvised explosive device targeted a ceremony of French, American, British, Italian and Greek officials commemorating the end of the First World War at a cemetery in the Saudi city of Jeddah, according to official statements.

The ceremony was held at a cemetery for non-Muslim dead, French Foreign Ministry officials said.

"Such attacks on innocent people are shameful and entirely without justification," said a joint statement issued by the embassies of the five countries in attendance. The group also acknowledged the work of Saudi first responders at the scene.

Hours after the attack, Saudi state media quoted a local official acknowledging the attack and saying a Greek consulate employee and Saudi security man were lightly wounded in the incident. The British government said one U.K. national suffered minor injuries.

The Saudi official said an investigation was underway.

Security situation stabilized

Greece's Foreign Ministry condemned the attack and said a Greek policeman serving in the Greek Consulate in Jeddah was wounded. The policeman had been accompanying a consulate employee attending the ceremony. The ministry said the wounded policeman was in good health and had been hospitalized but his life was not in danger.

Saudi state television also broadcast from outside the cemetery and said the security situation had stabilized.

Wednesday's attack follows on the heels of a stabbing Oct. 29 that lightly wounded a guard at the French Consulate in the same city. The stabbing was carried out by a Saudi man, who was arrested. His motives remain unclear.

France has suffered two deadly attacks by foreign-born Muslims in the past month. A teacher was beheaded outside Paris for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his class for a debate on free expression, and three people were later killed in a church in the southern city of Nice.

The depictions of the prophet sparked protests and calls for boycotts of French products among some Muslims in the Middle East and South Asia. France has urged its citizens in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-majority countries to be "on maximum alert" amid the heightened tensions.

Wednesday marked the 102nd anniversary of the armistice ending the First World War.

'Panic mode'

Nadia Chaaya, an official who represents French citizens living in Saudi Arabia, was at the ceremony when it came under attack. She told The Associated Press there were about 20 people of different nationalities in attendance, making it difficult to say whether French diplomats were specifically targeted.

She earlier told the French network BFM about the moment she heard an explosion as the consul general was near the end of his speech.

"At that moment we didn't really understand, but we felt that we were the target because directly we saw the smoke and we were of course in panic mode," she said. "We tried to understand, and we were most of all afraid to see if there was going to be a second wave."

Jeddah, the Red Sea port city, saw its Ottoman troops surrender to local troops backed by the British in 1916 amid the war. That sparked the start of the Kingdom of Hejaz, which later became part of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

Wednesday's attack follows on the heels of a stabbing Oct. 29 that slightly wounded a guard at the French Consulate in Jeddah. The stabbing was carried out by a Saudi man, who was arrested. His motives remain unclear.

'Maximum alert'

France has urged its citizens in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-majority countries to be "on maximum alert" amid heightened tensions after an assailant decapitated a French middle school teacher who showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class.

The French president's support for caricatures as a cornerstone of free speech has riled some Muslims who view the depictions as incitement and a form of hate speech.

Saudi King Salman is scheduled to deliver an annual address to the nation on Wednesday, laying out policy priorities for the coming year.

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