Skyscrapers stand in the King Abdullah financial district in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Photographer: Waseem Obaidi/Bloomberg)

Two Saudi Guards Killed in Rare Attack at Royal Palace Gate

(Bloomberg) -- An attacker opened fire at a checkpoint at the Al-Salam Palace in the coastal city of Jeddah, killing two royal guards in a rare attack directed at the Saudi ruling family as authorities in the kingdom battle extremists and crack down on dissent.

Three other guards were wounded in the attack, which was attributed to a 28-year-old Saudi national who also was killed by the Royal Guard at the western gate of the palace, the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. The attacker had a Kalashnikov machine gun and three Molotov fire grenades.

King Salman, who was traveling outside the country during the attack, often holds government meetings and hosts foreign leaders at the palace.

The attack highlights the challenges facing the kingdom as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman implements unprecedented measures to overhaul the economy and his security services fight Islamic State militants. The last known major assault on the royal family dates back to 2009 when a suicide bomber unsuccessfully tried to kill Mohammed in Nayef, who was then leading the crackdown on al-Qaeda militants as assistant interior minister.

The palace attack follows a security operation by Saudi forces last week at three locations in the capital of Riyadh, where authorities broke up a terrorist cell of Islamic State, capturing five suspects and killing two. Also last week, 22 people were arrested for undermining state security including the posting of videos on social media that “incite public order,” SPA reported.

American citizens in Saudi Arabia were urged to exercise caution after the attack.

“Due to the possibility of ongoing police activity, American citizens are advised to exercise caution when traveling through the area,” the U.S. consulate in Jeddah said in an emergency message.

Last month, Saudi authorities also arrested several prominent conservative clerics and other people who have opposed the ruling family in the past before a historic decision to join the rest of the world in allowing women in the kingdom to drive.