RIYADH - Saudi authorities have blamed a deadly attack targeting Shias during Ashura on militants linked to Al-Qaeda. Masked gunmen late on Monday killed five Shias in the kingdom's oil-rich east.

The next day two Saudi policemen and two suspects linked to the incident died in a shootout in Qassim region, north of the capital Riyadh.

Officers rounded up 15 suspects in several cities after the initial shooting in the Eastern Province.

"They are followers of the deviant ideology," interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki was quoted by the Asharq al-Awsat daily as saying.

He used the term by which Saudi authorities describe the ideology of Al-Qaeda. No group has so far claimed the attack.

Citing medical sources, Asharq al-Awsat said the attack left eight people dead and seven wounded. Police gave a different toll of five dead and nine wounded.

Turki said that security services had in the past 24 hours hunted down suspects involved in the "terrorist" attack in six Saudi cities.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's minister of culture and information was sacked by a royal decree published by the official SPA news agency only hours after he announced the shutdown of a privately owned television channel, known for its anti-Shia rhetoric.

"I had ordered the shut down of Wesal channel's bureau in Riyadh and banning it from broadcasting in the kingdom," Abdlaziz Khoja wrote on his Twitter account on Tuesday. "It is not a even a Saudi channel."