MANILA/RIYADH (Reuters) - A gunman shot and wounded a prominent Saudi Arabian cleric who was on an Islamic State hit list after he gave a speech to fellow Muslim preachers in a city in southern Philippines on Tuesday evening, local police said.
Ayed al-Qarni, a pro-government cleric with over 12 million followers on Twitter, was shot as he left an Islamic forum in a school auditorium at around 8.30 p.m. by a man who had attended the speech, police spokeswoman Inspector Helen Galvez said.
An official from the Saudi embassy in the Philippines was also wounded, she said.
The gunman, who was not immediately identified, was then shot dead by Qarni’s security escort, she added. Qarni is in a stable condition in Zamboanga City hospital, she said.
“We are still investigating the motive for the attack,” she said.
Islamic State regards Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al Saud family as apostates because of their close ties with Western countries and what the militant group describes as corruption and a failure to enforce a strict enough interpretation of Islam.
Riyadh has decreed long prison terms for anybody who backs the group, has detained hundreds of people for involvement with it and sent its warplanes to join U.S.-led strikes against its fighters in Syria.
It has also mobilized state clergy to issue fatwas and other statements condemning the group as heretical, a move that has inspired Islamic State preachers to brand Saudi clerics “the imams of disbelief” and call for their death.
Although Qarni is not employed by the state, he supports the government and enjoys credibility as an “independent” cleric who once backed an Islamist opposition movement against the Al Saud that led him to be banned from preaching in the early 1990s.
In a measure of his prominent position in Saudi Arabia, its government has sent a plane to transfer Qarni to Manila for further treatment, the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel reported.
Reporting By Manuel Mogato and Angus McDowall