A Wichita State University student was among four people killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the parking lot of a Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia during Friday prayers.
The student, Abduljaleel Alarbash, 22, was hailed as a hero by some witnesses who said he and and his cousin halted the suicide bomber as he attempted to enter a crowded mosque in the port city of Dammam. It was the second such attack in as many weeks claimed by the Islamic State group.
There were conflicting reports about how the attack unfolded. The state-run Saudi Press Agency said security guards halted a car in the parking lot of the mosque and that the bomber detonated his payload as they approached.
But Alarbash and his cousin were being credited on social media and in foreign newspapers with preventing a greater loss of life by intercepting the suicide bomber outside the mosque.
“They saved a lot of lives,” said Yagoob “Jacob” Alsarouj, who graduated from WSU this spring and said he was a close friend of Alarbash. “What he did was a selfless act … that’s something really to be proud of.”
Alsarouj said Alarbash and a cousin had volunteered to serve as security at the mosque in the wake of last week’s deadly mosque bombing.
According to a close friend back in Saudi Arabia and a video statement by Alarbash’s father, Alarbash became suspicious when someone dressed in the black all-encompassing garments worn by women in Saudi attempted to enter the mosque. Women had been told to stay home from Friday prayers as a safety precaution, Alsarouj said.
Alarbash confronted the disguised suicide bomber and was attempting to turn him in when the bomber set off his explosive device, Alsarouj said. Alarbash and his cousin were among those killed.
Mohammed Idris, an eyewitness, told the Associated Press by telephone that the suicide bomber attempted to enter the mosque but was chased by young men, who had set up checkpoints at the entrance of the mosque.
“They chased the suicide bomber when he tried to enter the women’s section of the mosque in the south entrance,” he said.
Taben Azad, vice president of the Muslim Student Association at WSU, said there were about 300 people inside the mosque at the time the bomb went off.
“To save the lives of hundreds of people was an act of a true Muslim and an act of a global citizen,” Azad said.
Alarbash, an undergraduate student at WSU, had returned to Saudi Arabia to get married and was scheduled to return to Wichita for classes this fall, said Preethika Kumar, an associate professor of electrical engineering at WSU. Alarbash was in Kumar’s class this spring.
“He was so excited” about getting married, Kumar said, adding that he would show her photos of his fiancee.
Alarbash would come to her office with questions about class work or just to talk, she said.
“We would start talking, for one or two hours, about everything else – about their country and God and all kinds of things,” she said. “I got to know him real well as a person.”
He sat in the front row of her class and was “always smiling, no matter how difficult the material was,” she said. “That course was a hard course.
“I’m so glad I got to know him. He was wonderful. I can’t say enough about him.”
Alarbash was active on campus, Azad said, and people were drawn to his smile and his genuineness. Alsarouj said his friend was fun-loving who didn’t hesitate to help people.
When Kumar put out a request among his classmates for photos of Alarbash to be used in a tribute by the university, she was inundated with pictures.
“He was obviously well loved,” Kumar said.
A statement issued by WSU said, “Our condolences go out to Abduljaleel’s family, friends and colleagues in this time of loss.”
A service to honor Alarbash will be held at 5 p.m. on June 5 on the east patio of the Rhatigan Student Center on the WSU campus.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, saying it was carried out by its “Najd Province,” referring to a region in the central Arabian Peninsula.
A statement posted on a Facebook page used by the extremist group said a “soldier of the caliphate” – identified as Abu Jandal al-Jazrawi – blew himself up among “an evil gathering of those filth in front of one of their shrines in Dammam.” The name al-Jazrawi suggests that the bomber is a Saudi national.
It called on Sunnis to “purify the land of the two shrines from the atheist rafida,” a derogatory term for Shiites.
Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority is a branch of Islam that both the Islamic State group and ultraconservatives in Saudi Arabia regularly denounce as heretical. Shiites in Saudi Arabia have long complained of discrimination and say their communities have benefited little form the country’s vast oil riches, which are also concentrated in the east.
Contributing: Associated Press