DOHA (Reuters) - Saudi security forces have arrested a man believed to belong to a Shi’ite Muslim group blamed for instigating protests and unrest in the country’s Eastern Province, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.
Montadhar Ali Saleh Alsbaitiin was captured on Thursday night in Awamiya, a Shi’ite village that has been the focal point of unrest since protests in early 2011 that called for an end to discrimination and for democratic reforms in the Sunni-ruled monarchy.
He was one of 23 men wanted by Saudi authorities, who accuse them of serving the agenda of a foreign power — usually a reference to its Shi’ite rival Iran.
Saudi Arabia’s state news agency SPA, quoting the Interior Ministry spokesman, said no one was hurt in the operation. The security forces will track down the other suspects, he said, urging them to surrender.
In December, security forces killed four militants in eastern Saudi Arabia in a raid on a hideout used by gunmen who shot dead a policeman in the area earlier that month. The shootout was the deadliest incident in recent years in Awamiya.
Saudi Shi’ites complain it is harder for them to get government jobs than Sunnis, or to build places of worship, and say the kingdom’s state-employed clergy use abusive language to describe their sect in sermons and religious text books.
The government denies discrimination and has accused Shi’ite activists involved in attacks on security officers or protests of working on behalf of a foreign power, widely understood to mean Iran. The activists and Tehran deny this.
Reporting by Amena Bakr; Editing by Angus MacSwan