A suicide bomber purportedly from an Islamic State affiliate unleashed the first terrorist attack in Kuwait in more than two decades on Friday, killing at least 27 people and wounding scores more in a bombing that targeted Shiite worshipers after midday prayers.
The attack, which hit Kuwait City, was one of three deadly attacks from Europe to the Middle East on Friday that followed the Islamic State group’s call for violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
It also underscored the Islamic State group’s reach and its ability to carry out large-scale attacks — even in this mostly quiet and relatively secure Gulf Arab nation, with its wealthy capital that is home to glistening shopping malls, five-star hotels and Western retail chains.
The bombing struck the Imam Sadiq Mosque in the residential neighborhood of al-Sawabir, one of the oldest Shiite mosques in the predominantly Sunni Arab nation, where at least one-third of the population is believed to be Shiite Muslim.
The explosion ripped through the back of the mosque, near the door, as worshipers stood shoulder-to-shoulder in group prayer, according to one witness, Hassan al-Haddad.
Al-Haddad said that other worshipers behind him recounted seeing a man walk in, stand in the back with other congregants and detonate a device.
A posting on a Twitter account known to belong to the Islamic State affiliate that calls itself the Najd Province claimed the explosion was the work of a suicide bomber.
It was the third attack in five weeks to be claimed by Najd Province — a name that refers to the central region of Saudi Arabia. The upstart Islamic State branch claimed two prior attacks on Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia that killed 26 people in late May.
The Islamic State regards Shiite Muslims as heretics, and refer to them derogatively as “rejectionists.”
The Islamic State statement said the bombing targeted a “temple of the apostates.”
Witness Ahmed al-Shawaf said he heard a man interrupt the prayer by shouting “Allahu Akbar,” which means “Allah is Great” in Arabic.
The man yelled out something about joining the Prophet Mohammed for iftar, the dusk meal at which Muslims break their daytime fasting during Ramadan, now in its second week.
Then, the blast came, al-Shawaf said.
The explosion took place near the end of a second prayer, which is traditional to Shiites and follows the main midday Friday prayer.
The Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior said in a statement that 27 people were killed and 227 were wounded, all of them males, including some boys. Police formed a cordon around the mosque’s complex immediately after the explosion. Ambulances could be seen ferrying wounded people away.
A panicked mother outside the mosque yelled at police to let her inside to find her son. The policemen allowed her through and she emerged shortly afterward and fainted. Worried relatives and shocked onlookers huddled around the mosque.
Former Kuwaiti legislator Abdullah al-Neybari said the Kuwaiti government “is not doing what it should be doing to fight extremism in the country.”
“This is a wake-up call to fight harder,” he said.
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