An Egyptian national carried out a suicide car bomb attack on a Doha theater popular with Westerners that killed one Briton, Qatar’s interior minister said Sunday, according to the Al-Jazeera satellite news channel.
After the blast, the largely European audience reportedly streamed out of the hall in the midst of the performance, a rendition of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”
Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, identified the suicide bomber as Omar Ahmed Abdullah, an Egyptian, and said he owned the car that exploded outside the Doha Players Theater during a Saturday night performance, killing one person and injuring 12 others.
Egyptian authorities have contacted their embassy in Doha seeking further details following claims that an Egyptian national carried out the attack, an Egyptian official in Cairo told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Warning from al-Qaida leader
The bombing came on the second anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. It was unclear if the attack was timed to mark the war’s commencement, but al-Qaida’s leader in the Persian Gulf urged militants this week to attack “crusaders” throughout the region.
The blast occurred in the northern Doha suburb of Farek Kelab, killing one British national who has not yet been identified. Ten of the 12 people injured have since been released from hospital and no details were available on their identities.
The bombing indicates that terror attacks targeting Westerners appear to be spreading out from Saudi Arabia, infecting other countries in the region where people are angered by U.S. support for Israel and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Saudi Arabia has been plagued by far worse attacks, and Westerners fleeing that kingdom have settled in other, more moderate Persian Gulf states, mainly Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
“We now have Qatar. It’s a rolling exercise,” said Youssef M. Ibrahim, an oil and political risk analyst who heads Dubai-based Strategic Energy Investment Group. “The notion that the Persian Gulf is a region open to terrorist attacks is now taking hold, not only in Iraq, but in the countries that used to be peaceful.”
'Mass chaos' described at scene
The bomb scene, which was near the Doha English Speaking School, remained cordoned off Sunday as investigators searched for clues. There has been no claim of responsibility released for the attack as yet.
“I saw people lying on the ground. I think they were in shock because of the explosion. They were mostly foreigners,” said Ahmed Goudah, a witness who spoke from the scene, which was littered with dozens of smashed cars, some engulfed in flames.
U.S. Army Capt. Eric Clark, who is based in Qatar, said he spoke with a woman who was playing in a performance of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” when a blast shook the hall.
“She heard a massive explosion and there was mass chaos and people just exited the building,” Clark said by telephone.
Earlier, Gen. Ahmed Al-Hariki of the Interior Ministry told Al-Jazeera that the blast occurred at a restaurant inside the theater, which is a popular venue for non-Qataris from Western and Arab countries. The U.S. Embassy is six miles away, and a U.S. military base is almost 12 miles away.
It was unclear if the attack was carried out following an audiotape by Saleh al-Aoofi, a wanted Saudi terrorist who purportedly heads al-Qaida in the Persian Gulf region, that called for attacks against Westerners in the Gulf, including Qatar.
“To the brothers in Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the Emirates and to all the lions of jihad in the countries neighboring Iraq, every one of us has to attack what is available in his country of soldiers, vehicles and air bases of the crusaders and the oil allocated for them,” according to an excerpt of the tape carried in Sunday’s London-based Ashram al-Awsat newspaper.
Such violence is rare in Qatar, a small, quiet country with tight security. The last incident of this type was the February 2004 car bomb assassination of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a former Chechen president who had lived in Qatar for several years. A Qatari court later convicted two Russian intelligence officers of the murder and sentenced them to 25 years in prison
Energy-rich Qatar is a close ally of the United States in the Persian Gulf. The country is home to the U.S. Central Command’s forward operations in the Middle East.