Wed Mar 15, 2017 4:31PM
Saudi police secure a neighborhood where a blast occurred during a firefight with security forces on January 21, 2017, in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. (Photo by AFP)
Saudi police secure a neighborhood where a blast occurred during a firefight with security forces on January 21, 2017, in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. (Photo by AFP)

Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry says unknown gunmen have shot dead a policeman in Qatif in the oil-rich Eastern Province.

The ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that a shooting erupted late on Tuesday, when police attempted to stop a suspicious car near the central hospital in Qatif.

The statement said one of the officers was fatally injured after someone in the car opened fire at police.

According to the ministry, police later managed to stop the suspects' vehicle but they fled "while shooting randomly" in a doctor's car they stole.

Molotov cocktails were reportedly found in the suspects' abandoned car, which had also been stolen.

Saudi Arabia has witnessed a spate of deadly attacks targeting security forces or the Shia minority over the past months. The local branches of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group have claimed responsibility for many of the assaults.

Saudi police gather as protesters, unseen, chant slogans during a demonstration in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, March 11, 2011. (Photo by AP)

On March 7, another policeman was shot dead as he tried to leave a Qatif police station in his personal car.

The Shia-populated Eastern Province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression and the release of political prisoners as well as an end to economic and religious discrimination against the oil-producing region.

The protests have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown by the Saudi regime. Riyadh has ramped up security measures across the province.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws so as to also affect activism.

On March 9, the Saudi Interior Ministry said police had shot dead a man whom it said was a "terrorism" suspect in Qatif.

On March 11, Saudi forces raided residential areas in Qatif’s village of al-Awamiyah, destroying buildings and killing a teenager.