Sunday February 17, 2019

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

3
//
Muslim pilgrims and rescuers gather around the victims of a stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia, during the annual hajj pilgrimage, Sept. 24, 2015 (VOA)

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.

Follow NewsGram on Facebook

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.

Follow NewsGram on Twitter

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)

  • 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

Pence Criticizes Europe For Iran, Venezuela, Russia Links

The atmosphere this year is one of apprehension, according to analyst Florence Gaub of the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

0
U.S.
United States Vice President Mike Pence briefs the media during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. VOA

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence strongly criticized European allies Saturday for their stance on Iran and Venezuela, in a speech at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

“The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining U.S. sanctions against this murderous, revolutionary regime. The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal,” Pence told delegates.

He also called on allies to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela. More than 20 European states have done so, but the European Union has stopped short of fully recognizing Guaido as president. Disputed president Nicholas Maduro is widely accused of vote-rigging to win last years’ election, while the country is mired in poverty and hyperinflation.

“Once more the Old World can take a strong stand in support of freedom in the New World. Today we call on the European Union to step forward for freedom and recognize Juan Guaido as the only legitimate president of Venezuela,” Pence said.

China repeatedly was singled out by the vice president as a threat to the United States and its allies.

“The United States has also been very clear with our security partners on the threat posed by Huawei and other Chinese telecom companies, as Chinese law requires them to provide Beijing’s vast security apparatus with access to any data that touches their network or equipment.”

Pence repeated Washington’s calls for European NATO allies to do more to meet their military spending targets — and cautioned against developing economic links with Moscow, such as the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline currently under construction between Russia and Germany.

United States Vice President Mike Pence delivers his speech during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019.
United States Vice President Mike Pence delivers his speech during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. VOA

“We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East,” Pence said.

Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took the stage later Saturday, and said Europe was losing out because of its stance on Russia.

“At a time when the Europeans allowed to draw themselves into a senseless standoff with Russia and incurred multi-billion-dollar losses from the sanctions pushed for from overseas, the world is rapidly changing. Actually, the EU has lost its monopoly on the regional integration agenda,” Lavrov said.

China’s senior delegate did not respond directly to the accusations made by Vice President Pence, but instead he offered a defense of multilateralism.

“Our world stands at a crossroads and faces a consequential choice between unilateralism and multilateralism, conflict and dialogue, isolation and openness,” Yang Jiechi, a senior member of the politburo and a former Chinese ambassador to the U.S., told delegates.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, welcomes United States Vice President Mike Pence, left, for a bilateral meeting during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, welcomes United States Vice President Mike Pence, left, for a bilateral meeting during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. VOA

Those sentiments were earlier echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who strongly criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s claims that Europe was taking advantage of America on trade.

The Munich Security Conference is seen as a key annual forum for world leaders to discuss global security concerns and conflicts — both in public and in private — in dozens of closed-door meetings taking place inside the venue.

The atmosphere this year is one of apprehension, according to analyst Florence Gaub of the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

Also Read: Native Americans Flutist Shares Stories and Music of Ojibwe People

“There is still a lot of grief over the old order being gone where everything was much more predictable, or at least appeared to be more predictable. So that’s slowly setting in,” said Gaub.

The tone of the conference speeches suggests that even among allies, tensions over a changing world order are no closer to being solved. (VOA)