Manila, Philippines | AFP – A failed attempt to assassinate a prominent Saudi cleric in the Philippines was caught on television, showing the hooded assailant firing at the preacher from close range.
The gunman walked toward Sheikh Aaidh al-Qarni’s car on Tuesday night as he was leaving a packed auditorium in the southern port city of Zamboanga, where he had given a lecture.
The assailant hid behind a crowd seeking selfies with a smiling Qarni as his vehicle slowly rolled out of the venue, footage on local station Mensahe TV showed.
Qarni, who was on an Islamic State hit list, survived the attack with wounds to his right shoulder, left arm and chest, according to police.
A shocked crowd scampered for safety covering their heads as the shots were fired.
His companion in the car, Saudi Arabia’s religious attaché to the Philippines, Sheikh Turki Assaegh, was also wounded in the attack.
Qarni’s police escorts shot the assassin dead. Identification cards found on his body indicated he was a 21-year-old student though police said they were not ruling out forgery.
Two other suspects were arrested at the scene of the shooting.
Investigators are looking at the possibility that the attack was influenced by IS, but there was no evidence to show that yet, said Chief Inspector Helen Galvez, Zamboanga police spokeswoman.
“As of now, we don’t have any conclusions on their group affiliations,” Galvez told AFP.
A special police unit investigating the case has asked for a month to determine the affiliation of the suspects, who live on the outskirts of Zamboanga, a southern Philippine port city that is frequently targeted by Islamic extremists.
Qarni was in Zamboanga for a speaking engagement at a state university organized by local Muslim leaders.
Mensahe TV footage showed him speaking on a table strewn with red and white flowers before a packed and sweltering crowd.
Islamic State militants who control vast swathes of Iraq and Syria had called on “lone wolves” to attack Qarni and several other Saudi clerics whom they accused of apostasy in the latest issue of Dabiq, their monthly online magazine.
Saudi media outlets described Qarni as a senior Islamic scholar and he has more than 12 million followers on Twitter.
In his book “Awakening Islam,” the French academic Stephane Lacroix included Qarni in his list of “the most famous” Saudi preachers.