RIYADH - An attacker opened fire at local education department offices in southern Saudi Arabia on Thursday, killing six employees in what authorities are treating as a criminal attack, a senior Saudi official said,  The attacker has been arrested, Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman General Mansour Turki said, adding that two people had also been wounded in the assault, which took place in the Aldair Bani Malik governorate in Jazan region.

Saudi newspaper Sabq posted a picture of emergency vehicles outside a four-storey building. Other local media described it as a personal dispute. Saudi Arabia has seen several incidents of deadly violence in recent months. A suicide bombing and gun attack on Shi’ite worshippers killed four people in eastern Saudi Arabia in January. The attack happened at about 2:00 pm (1100 GMT), ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki told AFP. “This is a criminal act,” said Turki, adding that one suspect had been arrested.

He was unable to immediately confirm how the victims were killed but state television reported it was a shooting. The identity and motive of the suspect were unclear.Al-Ekhbariya state television, citing police, said the suspect was not an employee but had some business at the ministry.Officers responded to a report that a man “was shooting at a number of employees while they were carrying out their duties,” the channel reported on its Twitter account. On the Internet, purported pictures from the scene showed at least five ambulances outside a building resembling a low-rise apartment block.

The attack occurred in the remote community of Ad Dair, several kilometres from the Yemeni border. Jazan and other southern border districts have been shelled by rebels in Yemen since March last year when a Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes and later ground operations to halt the advance of the Huthi rebels there. More than 90 soldiers and civilians have been killed in shelling and skirmishes in the Saudi border region. Elsewhere in the kingdom there have been mass shootings and bombings claimed by the Islamic State group against the Shiite minority community. IS has also targeted the security forces. But criminal mass shootings are rare in Saudi Arabia.