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Bombing near one of Islam’s holiest sites in Saudi Arabia kills 4 as Baghdad death toll tops 200

BEIRUT — Suicide bombers suspected of links to the Islamic State group struck for the fourth time in less than a week Monday, targeting three locations in Saudi Arabia in an extension of what appeared to be a coordinated campaign of worldwide bombings coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

A suicide bombing outside one of Islam’s holiest sites killed four Saudi security forces and wounded five others on Monday. Also Monday evening, at least one suicide bomber and a car bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia, several hours after a suicide bomber carried out an attack near the U.S. Consulate in the western city of Jiddah.

The attacks came as the death toll from a Sunday suicide bombing on a busy Baghdad shopping street rose to more than 200 Monday as victims succumbed to their injuries and rescuers pulled out bodies from the charred shops and malls, making it the Islamic State’s deadliest-ever bomb attack on civilians.

And the attacks were viewed as offering further evidence that in the three years since it declared the existence of its so-called caliphate, IS has developed the capacity to strike at will at the time of its choosing in diverse locations around the world.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the bombings bore the hallmarks of IS, with suicide attackers picking targets that closely coincide with the group’s declared enemies — Americans, members of the Shiite Muslim minority and the Saudi security services.

The extremist group, as it has in each of the previous three years, had urged its followers to carry out attacks during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, a period of fasting, abstention and prayer that will conclude on Wednesday with a holiday of feasting and family visits.

This has turned into the most blood-soaked Ramadan yet in IS’s campaign. At least 290 people have been killed in attacks claimed by or linked to IS at the Ataturk Istanbul airport, a restaurant frequented by foreigners in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka and in Baghdad. The vast majority of them — at least 222 people, according to Ziad Ali al-Yousif, the head of Baghdad’s morgue — died in the Baghdad blast, which targeted a shopping street packed with people out celebrating the end of the day’s fast and shopping for the approaching holiday.

Though the updated death toll climbed past that of the Paris attack last year, when IS gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people, the international outpouring of grief was more muted for this city, as the civilians of the Middle East continue to bear the brunt of the bloodshed caused by the extremists. But some in Baghdad began expressing their grief through politics, waving banners listing the dead and demanding the resignations of officials, including the embattled Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who ordered new security measures, including abandoning the use of bomb-detection wands that U.S. experts pronounced worthless years ago. The latest bombing is expected to further fuel months of protests against the government.

Later Monday, about 10 rockets struck a refugee camp for Iranian exiles next to Baghdad’s international airport, according to a Baghdad police official. The attack killed three Iraqi policemen and wounded 13 others, according to a hospital official.

Also Monday, five convicted terrorists were executed in Baghdad, the Ministry of Justice said in an announcement that appeared aimed at restoring faith in Iraq’s security forces in the wake of the devastating attack.

Omar Mateen, the gunman who killed 49 people at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub last month, may also have been inspired by the call for Ramadan attacks issued by IS’s chief spokesman, Mohammed al-Adnani, in late May. But although Mateen cited IS as his inspiration in phone calls to emergency responders, investigators have found no evidence he was directly linked to the group.

IS also did not claim the attack in Istanbul that killed 44 people, but Turkish investigators say the group is the leading suspect. The private Turkish news agency Dogan said Monday that two suspected IS operatives from the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan have been detained at Ataturk Airport.

Kuwait bolstered security at oil installations after security forces said they had foiled planned attacks targeting a Shiite mosque and one of the Interior Ministry’s facilities. Malaysian authorities said Monday that a grenade attack that injured eight people at a nightclub in Malaysia last week — thought to have been the first assault in Malaysia tied to IS — was the work of the extremist group, and two men who received instructions from a fighter for the group have been arrested.

On Monday, Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, said the cousins from a village in the West Bank who went on a shooting spree at a trendy food mall that killed four Israeli civilians and wounded 15 were inspired by IS.

In Bangladesh, some of the hostages rescued from the weekend attack carried out by men from privileged backgrounds on an upscale restaurant in the capital, Dhaka, were questioned Monday by investigators searching for clues about the possible masterminds behind the gruesome attack that left 28 dead, including many foreigners.

The attacks in Saudi Arabia raised concerns that the group is taking deeper root there, potentially threatening the stability of one of America’s closest Arab allies. IS has frequently threatened the kingdom, whose status as the guardian of the holiest sites in Islam is challenged by a group that regards itself as the rightful leader of the Muslim world.

The first blast came in the afternoon at an intersection on the corner of the heavily fortified U.S. consulate, near a hospital and a mosque. Two security guards were wounded and the bomber died after security guards approached the man and he detonated his explosives, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

Hours later, a suicide bomber blew himself up near a mosque in the majority Shiite city of Qatif in eastern Saudi Arabia. A resident of the city contacted by Reuters news agency said there appeared to be no casualties other than the bomber, because worshippers had already gone home to break their fast. IS has in the past year claimed a number of deadly bombings against the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia.

The final attack came in Medina, the second-holiest site in Islam, which is visited by millions of Muslim pilgrims every year. It apparently targeted Saudi security forces stationed near the 7th-century Mosque of the Prophet Mohammed, who is buried there.

Local news media reported that two security guards died when at least one bomber detonated explosives near the mosque. The ministry said the attacker set off the bomb in a parking lot after security officers raised suspicions about him. Several cars caught fire and thick plumes of black smoke were seen rising from the site of the explosion as thousands of worshippers crowded the streets around the mosque.

Later, The Prophet Muhammad’s mosque was packed with worshippers. Local media say the attacker was intending to strike the mosque when it was crowded with thousands of worshippers gathered for the sunset prayer.

“It was very shocking that such a thing happens in such a holy place for Muslims, the second-holiest place in the world. That’s not an act that represents Islam,” said Altayeb Osama, a 25-year old Sudanese visitor to Medina. “People never imagined that this could happen here.”

Qari Ziyaad Patel, 36, from Johannesburg, South Africa, was at the mosque when he heard a blast just as people were breaking their fast with dates. Many at first thought it was the sound of traditional, celebratory cannon fire, but then he felt the ground shake.

“The vibrations were very strong,” he said. “It sounded like a building imploded.”

Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain condemned the blasts.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the reported attack during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan near one of Islam’s most sacred places confirms that terrorism “knows no religion or belief or any meaning of humanity.”

A Foreign Ministry official in the UAE was quoted in the state-run WAM news agency as saying the stability of Saudi Arabia “is the main pillar of the stability of the United Arab Emirates and the whole of the Gulf Arab region.”

The secretary general of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which is headquartered in Saudi Arabia, said the attacks are an attempt to destabilize the kingdom. Iyad Madani says the kingdom’s security is “the cornerstone of security and stability in the region and the Islamic world.”

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