Saudi authorities put final touches to Haj security arrangements
MECCA: With security uppermost in their mind after last year’s bombings in Riyadh, Saudi authorities were on Tuesday putting the final touches to plans to ensure the safety of more than two million Muslim faithful gathering here for the annual Haj.
“Security forces are fully prepared to deal with any emergency or anyone who would attempt to undermine the security of the country or threaten the Haj,” said their commander, General Ali bin Ahmad al-Bar.
Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz was on Tuesday afternoon to inspect the security arrangements put in place for the pilgrimage, which starts on Friday and climaxes the following day.
Police reinforcements have been deployed at the entrances to Mecca and on the roads leading to holy sites in order to direct traffic.
Some 14,200 buses, with a total seating capacity of 673,000, will be used to ferry pilgrims to the holy sites, said Salah bin Mohammad Saqr, who heads the hajj transport commission.
Others will be travelling by cab or private car.
Up to 1,039 surveillance cameras installed on roads leading to the holy places enable security forces to keep a watch on the pilgrims and if necessary intervene, the daily Al-Watan on Tuesday quoted public security General Abdul Aziz bin Said as saying.
“Our security forces are like a mountain on which the waves of rancour and crime will break,” Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz said in a message to Prince Nayef made public on Tuesday.
Saudi authorities have for many years been taking precautions to head off any trouble caused by foreign pilgrims.
They have also banned meetings or the raising of slogans since 1987, when clashes between security forces and Iranians protesting against Israel and the United States left 402 people dead, according to official figures.
But this year’s security concerns focus on the threat from within Islamist extremists from Al Qaeda blamed for a series of suicide bombings that left 52 people dead in Riyadh in May and November last year.
“The bombings which hit the kingdom cannot be the work of Muslims,” grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said in an address to Mecca academics on Monday night.
“The terrorists’ chiefs have nothing to do with religion. Sharia (Islamic law) does not call for murder and oppression,” the mufti said, warning that Islam’s prophet Mohammed “banned the carrying of arms in the holy places”.
Saudi authorities said in early November they had foiled a plot to attack pilgrims gathered in Mecca during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and shot dead two terrorists.