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Saudi man arrested after stabbing guard at French Consulate

October 29, 2020 GMT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Saudi man stabbed and slightly wounded a guard at the French Consulate in the city of Jiddah on Thursday, authorities said, as France urged its citizens in the kingdom to be “on maximum alert.”

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.

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The Saudi Press Agency report, citing police spokesman Maj. Mohammed al-Ghamdi, said the special force for diplomatic security was able to arrest the Saudi man after he stabbed the guard “using a sharp tool.” The attacker is said to be in his 40s. The guard was taken to a hospital for treatment, the agency said.

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 France on Thursday, authorities said an attacker armed with a knife killed three people at a church in the city of Nice. It wasn’t immediately clear if that attack or the one in Jiddah involved the current controversy, which has seen protests across the Muslim world. Muslims also have called for boycotts of French products.

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.