Wednesday’s attack follows a stabbing on October 29 that slightly injured a guard at the French consulate in Djiddah. The stabbing was committed by a Saudi Arabian, who was arrested. His motivations remain unclear.
France suffered two deadly attacks by foreign-born Muslims last month. A teacher was beheaded outside Paris for showing his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad for a free speech debate, and three people were later killed in a church in the southern city of Nice.
The representations of the prophet sparked protests and calls to boycott French products among some Muslims in the Middle East and South Asia. France has urged its citizens in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-majority countries to be “on high alert” amid heightened tensions.
Wednesday marks the 102nd anniversary of the armistice ending World War I and is commemorated in several European countries. French officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with regulations, condemned the attack.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion. Saudi officials and the kingdom’s state media did not comment on the attack.
Jiddah, the Red Sea port city, saw its Ottoman troops surrender to local British-backed troops in 1916 in the midst of war. This sparked the start of the Kingdom of Hejaz, which later became part of Saudi Arabia in 1932.
The non-Muslim Jiddah Cemetery is located near the docks of this port city, hidden behind trees along a main thoroughfare in the city. Commonwealth War Graves Commission shows single soldier buried in cemetery, Pvt. John Arthur Hogan, who died in June 1944.
Throughout France, which was particularly devastated by years of trench warfare during World War I, ceremonies were held on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of the armistice but also to honor all those who died for the France, including during WWII and ongoing military operations abroad and at home, where troops are deployed to protect against terrorist attacks.
Diplomatic posts have been targeted in Saudi Arabia in the past. A 2004 armed assault on the US consulate in Jiddah blamed on Al-Qaida killed five employees. In 2016, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the same American consulate, injuring two guards.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron has come under special scrutiny from some Muslim leaders for his portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad caricatures as a protected cornerstone of free speech and secular ideals. from France. This angered some Muslims who view the performances as incitement to hatred and a form of hate speech.
Saudi Arabia’s monarch and senior clerics condemned the performances, but senior Saudi clerics also called for calm and urged people to follow the prophet’s example of “mercy, justice, tolerance.”
King Salman is due to deliver an annual speech to the nation on Wednesday, setting out political priorities for the coming year.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press author Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report