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Al-Qaeda ordered Saudi theatre stabbing: state media

An Al-Qaeda leader in war-torn Yemen ordered a knife attack on a Spanish theatre group in Riyadh, Saudi state television reported Thursday, as the suspected assailant’s trial opened.

Madrid said four Spanish nationals were wounded in the stabbing spree during a live performance on November 11, the first such assault since the ultra-conservative kingdom began easing decades-old restrictions on entertainment.

The Yemeni suspect took orders from an Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, the official Al-Ekhbariya television said, as his trial began in a Saudi criminal court.

It did not reveal the source of the information or offer any other details. Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.

Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition supporting the Yemeni government against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels and has also been involved in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is active in Yemen, is considered by the United States as the radical group’s most dangerous branch.

Saudi police had earlier identified the assailant as a 33-year-old Yemeni expatriate.

An official investigation had led authorities to a second suspect, the pro-government Okaz newspaper reported on Thursday without offering any further details.

The newspaper added the Yemeni attacker sought to sow “chaos and terror” in a bid to compel authorities to stop hosting entertainment activities in the Muslim kingdom.

The attack took place during a musical performance at the King Abdullah Park in the Saudi capital, one of the venues hosting the two-month “Riyadh Season”.

The entertainment festival is part of a broad government push to open up the kingdom to tourists and diversify its economy away from oil.

De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pursued sweeping social reforms that mark the biggest cultural shakeup in the kingdom’s modern history, allowing mixed-gender concerts and the reopening of cinemas.

Although the reforms are wildly popular among Saudi Arabia’s mainly young population, they risk angering religious hardliners in the deeply conservative nation.