The Saudi Press Agency offered no immediate motive for the attack in the Red Sea port city. However, it comes amid heightened tensions after an assailant decapitated a French middle school teacher who showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad for a class on free speech. Those caricatures were published by Charlie Hebdo and cited by the men who gunned down the newspaper’s editorial meeting in 2015.
The report did not elaborate. A statement published by the French Embassy in Riyadh mirrored the details of the news agency’s account, saying that the diplomatic mission condemned the “unjustified” attack.
“We appeal to our compatriots in Saudi Arabia to be on maximum alert,” the statement said.
In Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest sites in Islam, there has been criticism of France but much-more muted than in other countries. The Saudi Foreign Ministry has said the kingdom “rejects any attempt to link Islam and terrorism, and denounces the offensive cartoons of the prophet.” Saudi clerics have too condemned the caricatures, but have also cited the prophet’s “mercy, justice, tolerance.” Another prominent sheikh called on Muslims not to overreact.
From 2003 to 2007, al-Qaida-linked militants carried out attacks in Saudi Arabia aimed at destabilizing the Western-allied monarchy, including deadly bombings of residential compounds housing foreigners. The Islamic State group similarly has carried out attacks in the kingdom.
Diplomatic posts have been targeted in the past. A 2004 armed assault on the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah blamed on al-Qaida killed five employees. In 2016, a suicide bomber blew himself up near that same U.S. Consulate, wounding two guards.