Sunday June 24, 2018

Security tactics being updated by Saudi after 2015 attacks at the world’s largest annual Muslim gathering ‘Haj’

Relations between Shi'ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, which back opposing sides in Syria and other conflicts, plummeted after the 2015 crush

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Muslim pilgrims and rescuers gather around the victims of a stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia, during the annual hajj pilgrimage, Sept. 24, 2015 (VOA)
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The world’s largest annual Muslim gathering, bringing some two million to Islam’s most sacred sites in Mecca, will also be a focus of concern about militant violence after a suicide bomber killed four soldiers in early July in the nearby city of Medina, Islam’s second holiest.

Custodian of Islam’s most revered places, Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on organizing haj, one of the five pillars of Islam which every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to is obliged to undertake at least once.

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Its prestige was damaged by the 2015 disaster, in which Riyadh said 769 pilgrims were killed – the highest haj death toll since a crush in 1990. Counts of fatalities by countries who repatriated bodies showed that over 2,000 people may have died in the crush, more than 400 of them Iranians.

People stand near the site of an explosion in Medina, Saudi Arabia, July 4, 2016 (VOA)
People stand near the site of an explosion in Medina, Saudi Arabia, July 4, 2016 (VOA)

Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, blamed the disaster on organizers’ incompetence. An official Saudi inquiry has yet to be published, but authorities suggested at the time some pilgrims ignored crowd control rules.

This year, efforts are being made to strengthen crowd management.

Thousands of civil servants, security personnel and medics have been conducting drills in preparation for the pilgrimage, which officially starts this week.

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The kingdom says it is deploying extra staff and increasing coordination with haj missions from pilgrims’ home countries to ensure worshippers comply with agreed schedules to perform various rituals. Hundreds of new surveillance cameras had been installed at the Grand Mosque.

“The scheduling program is the most important part of the operational program,” Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour Turki told Reuters.

“This is the area we have to concentrate on, to make sure pilgrims comply with it once they get there.”

Muslim pilgrims gather around the bodies of people crushed in Mina, Saudi Arabia during the annual hajj pilgrimage on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015 (VOA)
Muslim pilgrims gather around the bodies of people crushed in Mina, Saudi Arabia during the annual hajj pilgrimage on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015 (VOA)

Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat said last month the Mecca Development Authority had set up electronic paths and gates to manage crowds heading to Jamarat, the symbolic stoning of the devil where many previous disasters have occurred.

The kingdom also is kitting pilgrims out with electronic wristbands to enable authorities to track the flow of people and get early warnings of crowd build-ups.

No politics

Relations between Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, which back opposing sides in Syria and other conflicts, plummeted after the 2015 crush.

Riyadh then broke diplomatic ties when its Tehran embassy was stormed in January over the Saudi execution of a Shi’ite cleric.

Wary that some pilgrims may seek to use haj for ideological purposes, Saudi Arabia said it would not tolerate any attempt to politicize haj – remarks widely seen as referring to Iran.

Iran said in May its pilgrims would not attend, blaming Riyadh for “sabotage” and failing to guarantee their safety.

Saudi Arabia blamed Iran, saying it had demanded the right to hold demonstrations that would have created chaos.

But Saudi Arabia is worried that Iranian pilgrims coming from abroad or pro-Iranian pilgrims from other countries could still exploit the gathering to spread anti-Saudi messages. (VOA)

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  • Arya Sharan

    It is sad to see religious places being targeted by terrorist groups who advocate for their respective religions.

  • Manthra koliyer

    The stampede resulted in the death of many people

  • Manthra koliyer

    The stampede has led to an increase in the security force!

Next Story

Iran looking Forward To Continue Nuclear Enrichment Activity

President Donald Trump withdrew United States from the 2015 nuclear accord

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A bicyclist passes the nuclear power plant just outside Bushehr, Iran, Oct. 26, 2010.
A bicyclist passes the nuclear power plant just outside Bushehr, Iran, Oct. 26, 2010, VOA

Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency it will resume testing of a new generation of nuclear centrifuges Wednesday.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear energy agency, said Tehran would remain within the framework of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, nuclear deal reached with the five permanent members of the United Nations plus Germany. Salehi added that the accord allowed Iran to test a new generation of nuclear centrifuges and that his country’s nuclear program is intended for peaceful civilian purposes.

Salehi says Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a religious edict years ago that banned nuclear weapons.

Khamenei told a group of visitors Monday that he had issued orders for the country’s Atomic Energy Organization to increase its enrichment capacity to 190,000 centrifuges, provisionally, in accordance with the JCPOA.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear accord last month. Britain, France and Germany have been attempting to salvage the deal that Trump has described as “horrible” and “one-sided.”

 

Iran's head of the country's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, attends a seminar in Tokyo, Japan, Nov. 5, 2015. logo LIVE MIDDLE EAST Iran Prepares to Resume Nuclear Enrichment Activity June 06, 2018 1:16 PM Edward Yeranian FILE: A bicyclist passes the nuclear power plant just outside Bushehr, Iran, Oct. 26, 2010. FILE: A bicyclist passes the nuclear power plant just outside Bushehr, Iran, Oct. 26, 2010. Share See comments CAIRO — Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency it will resume testing of a new generation of nuclear centrifuges Wednesday. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's nuclear energy agency, said Tehran would remain within the framework of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, nuclear deal reached with the five permanent members of the United Nations plus Germany. Salehi added that the accord allowed Iran to test a new generation of nuclear centrifuges and that his country's nuclear program is intended for peaceful civilian purposes. Salehi says Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a religious edict years ago that banned nuclear weapons. FILE - Iran's head of the country's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, attends a seminar in Tokyo, Japan, Nov. 5, 2015. FILE - Iran's head of the country's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, attends a seminar in Tokyo, Japan, Nov. 5, 2015. Khamenei told a group of visitors Monday that he had issued orders for the country's Atomic Energy Organization to increase its enrichment capacity to 190,000 centrifuges, provisionally, in accordance with the JCPOA. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear accord last month. Britain, France and Germany have been attempting to salvage the deal that Trump has described as "horrible" and "one-sided." Former Iranian President Abolha
Iran’s head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, attends a seminar in Tokyo, Japan, Nov. 5, 2015. VOA

 

Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani Sadr told VOA he thinks Khamenei’s decision to resume nuclear enrichment capacity is “not a well-thought out move,” and that it is having negative consequences on regional interests.

According to Bani Sadr, the decision strengthens Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s charge that Iran represents a threat to Israel and must evacuate its forces from Syria, as requested by the U.S.-Israeli-Saudi axis.

In addition, said Bani Sadr, Khamenei’s statement that Israel will be “eradicated from the face of the Earth” negatively influences public opinion against Tehran.

Khattar Abou Diab, a political science professor at the University of Paris, tells VOA that Khamenei’s decision was aimed at pressuring Europe into gaining concessions from the United States. While France’s foreign minister spoke of “red lines” that Iran must not cross, Paris, Berlin and London have asked to be exempted from new economic sanctions Trump imposed on Iran.

Also read: Israel warn Iran hints war Middle East

  • Abou Diab argues that despite Iran’s bluster, it “fears any eventual reaction or backlash from Washington.” (VOA)