BEIRUT, Lebanon — Four heavily armed men from Iraq attacked a Saudi Arabia border patrol early Monday, firing automatic weapons and detonating suicide belts in a confrontation that left three guards and all the assailants dead, Saudi officials said.
The early morning clash, which the Saudis described as an attempted infiltration near an isolated patch of the Saudi-Iraq frontier, was one of the deadliest episodes of border violence for Saudi Arabia.
It was likely to raise fears of jihadist infiltrations in the Saudi kingdom from Iraq and Yemen — another radical Islamist breeding ground that shares a border with Saudi Arabia, which controls access to Islam’s holiest sites.
Saudi officials said the border guards had suspected the men were trying to sneak across the border. When confronted, the men fired automatic weapons and detonated suicide belts to avoid arrest, the officials said.
It was unclear whether the assailants were affiliated with any organization. No known jihadist group has claimed responsibility. A spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry, Maj. Gen. Mansour Turki, said by phone that the Saudi authorities were working to learn more about the attackers.
“Two of them blew themselves up and two of them were killed in clashes, so we have to work on establishing their identities,” General Turki said.
Al Qaeda has attacked the kingdom in the past. The Islamic State has threatened attacks as retribution for Saudi participation in an American-led bombing campaign against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.
Both General Turki and a report on the state-run Saudi Press Agency described the clash as a result of a confrontation, not an armed assault on a border post.
Monitoring the frontier with surveillance technology, the border guards had gone to investigate four men seen near the border, General Turki said.
As the guards approached, thinking the men could be smugglers, the men opened fire. The guards fired back, killing one of the men. In the ensuing battle, another man was shot dead by border guards and the other two blew themselves up.
Three border guards were also killed.
The men had been carrying weapons that included a machine gun and hand grenades and some cash.
General Turki said he could not remember the last time there had been an armed clash on its border with Iraq, although he said some positions had been targeted by mortar fire from the Iraqi side.
Hassan Abu Hanieh, a Jordanian expert on Islamist groups, said he doubted that the Islamic State had sent the men because of the small scale of the operation.
“I don’t think that ISIS would launch a small, failed operation like this given all of its capabilities,” he said. “That doesn’t seem like their way.”
Mr. Abu Hanieh said the assailants more likely had been associated with Al Qaeda, which has tried many times to sneak into Saudi Arabia from Yemen, its southern neighbor.
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(via NY Times)