The government of Saudi Arabia is taking grave exception to Iran’s criticisms of how it handles Haj, Arab News reports. It widely quotes Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir bluntly telling Iran to stop trying to make political hay out of the recent tragedy.

KSA rubbishes Iran criticism of stampede

NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia firmly rejected Iran’s criticism of its handling of the Haj pilgrimage Saturday after Tehran demanded an inquiry into the Mina stampede.

“I believe the Iranians should know better than to play politics with a tragedy that has befallen people who were performing their most sacred religious duty,” Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said, according to AFP.

Al-Jubeir, delivering remarks along US Secretary of State John Kerry, insisted that Saudi Arabia was on top of the situation.

“The Kingdom has had a long history of spending tremendous resources to care for the pilgrimage to ensure that the pilgrims who come there have a successful pilgrimage,” he said.

“And we will reveal the facts when they emerge. And we will not hold anything back. If mistakes were made, who made them will be held accountable,” Al-Jubeir said.

September:28:2015 - 06:59 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi media, typified by this Saudi Gazette report, are suggesting that a group of Iranian pilgrims eager to reach Mina to complete their Haj, ignored their scheduled travel and ended up causing the stampede that has killed over 700 people.

‘Violation of rules by Iranian pilgrims caused stampede’
Saudi Gazette report

MINA — Violation of the pilgrims’ grouping regulations by some 300 Iranian pilgrims resulted in the stampede in Mina which killed 769 Hajis and injured 934, Asharq Al-Awsat daily reported on Saturday quoting an official of the Tawafa Establishment for the Iranian Pilgrims.

The official, who requested anonymity, said the violation of rules by this group of Iranian pilgrims started from their very first movement from Muzdalifah on Thursday morning to Jamarat to perform the first day’s stoning ritual. They were clearly instructed to go to their tents from Muzdalifah instead of moving to Jamarat with their baggage. They had been instructed to take rest in their tents and wait for the time allotted for them to perform their stoning ritual.

Moreover, these pilgrims moved back to their tents from Jamarat through Street 204 in the opposite direction of pilgrims’ movement, the official said. The flow of pilgrims from two opposite directions resulted in the overcrowding and the stampede ensued, the official said.

According to sources, there are cameras installed in the tunnels leading to Jamarat and it will be obvious from the visuals that the Iranian pilgrims committed violations with regard to their movement to Jamarat.

Iran, meanwhile, blames Saudi government “incompetence”:

Iran blames Saudi Arabia for hajj disaster

September:27:2015 - 06:20 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The number of dead keeps rising in reports on a stampede at a pilgrim camp crossroad on the way to the Jamarat area of the Haj pilgrimage. The exact cause of the stampede is unknown, though clearly overcrowding will be seen to have played an important role.

At least 453 dead in Mina stampede

Saudi Arabia’s civil defense says that at least 453 pilgrims have died on Thursday when a stampede broke out in the city of Mina, reported Al Arabiya News.

At least 719 others were injured in the crush at a crossroads on Street 204 at the camp city at Mina, a few kilometres east of Makkah, the Saudi civil defence said.

Al Arabiya News Channel’s correspondent Abdulrahman Al-Osaimi reporting from Mina emergency hospital said the stampede happened at the entrance of the Jamarat bridge near Street 204, and not inside of the Jamarat area where the stoning pillars are situated.

“The injured have been distributed to four other hospitals in the Mina area. Some of the injured have been evacuated by helicopters to hospitals in Makkah city,” our reporter said.

Al Arabiya TV also provides a timeline of earlier disasters — including other stampedes — that led to high numbers of deaths during the pilgrimage. Balancing public access with public safety is a difficult equation.

Timeline: A look at the worst stampedes during Hajj

UPDATE: The death toll has now reached 717, as of Sept. 25. There are still hundreds of injured being treated, not all of whom are expected to survive.

The groups suffering the highest number of deaths is reported to have been Iranians and Moroccans.

September:24:2015 - 07:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has announced the the victims (and the families of victims) of the crane collapse in Mecca will receive SR 1 million (US $296,000) in compensation for the tragedy. The compensation is not in lieu of private law suits.

SR1m for family of each crane victim
Siraj Wahab | Arab News staff

JEDDAH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has ordered massive payouts for the families of those killed and injured in last week’s crane crash tragedy, which claimed the lives of 111 people and injured over 238.

In a royal decree on Tuesday, the king announced that there would be SR1 million paid to each victim’s family, SR1 million to those whose injuries resulted in permanent disability, and SR500,000 for each of the injured, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The king stated that these payments would not exclude the families of the deceased, and the injured, from launching lawsuits through the courts for compensation.

The government has suspended all crane operations during Haj to avoid any repeat. It is also reported that the Bin Laden Group construction company, whose crane was responsible for the deaths and injuries, has been suspended from further work, though it is not clear whether this pertains only to work at the Grand Mosque or on all projects.

September:16:2015 - 07:34 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

All Saudi media are reporting on the collapse of a construction crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Major renovation and expansion work is underway at the mosque. The collapse is currently being blamed on high winds and torrential rains. Al Arabiya TV accompanies its report with videos of the storm and the collapse of the crane. The weather certainly looks close enough to a hurricane that structural damage could be anticipated.

More than 100 killed in Makkah crane collapse

More than 100 people have been killed and scores more wounded in Makkah’s Grand Mosque after a crane collapsed on Friday, Al Arabiya News Channel reported citing the Saudi Civil Defense authority.

It is believed the crane collapsed in high winds and severe rainfall.

Saudi Gazette reports that the rains were exceptionally heavy:

Heaviest rain in decades lashes Makkah

September:12:2015 - 07:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs two opinion pieces today discussing the Al-Khobar barracks bombing of 1996 and the recent arrest of one of the perpetrators. Though the first is not yet mounted at the paper’s website, it can be found at Al Arabiya TV. In both pieces — and we can take this as unofficial reflection of Saudi policy — Iran is lambasted for its support of the bombing, if not its planning. Both pieces rail against Iran’s historic and continued use of terrorism as part of its official statecraft.

In the first, Abdulrahman al-Rashed reviews the history of the attack as well as of Iran’s meddling in the region…

The significance of arresting the 1996 Khobar bomber
Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Who would have thought that the head of the terrorist cell that carried out the Khobar bombing in Saudi Arabia would be arrested after being on the run for 19 years? Arresting Ahmed al-Mughassil in Beirut and handing him over to Saudi authorities in Riyadh has turned the page on one of the most important and dangerous security and political cases. This is because the operation was plotted in Iran, the victims were from the U.S. and the crime was committed on Saudi territories. This case also involved other countries such as Canada, Syria and Lebanon because of the presence of the suspects on their territories.

It is said that the violent attack in the summer of 1996 was so big that the explosion was heard from Bahrain. The force of the bomb caused a10-meter crater in the ground and destroyed one side of the Khobar towers. Nineteen U.S. forces were dead and about 500 others were injured. Perhaps it would have ranked the worst terrorist operation in the world, in terms of injuries, if the perpetrators did not put the bomb in a water truck, which reduced the force of the explosion.

In the second piece, Salman Aldosary asks the whereabouts of others involved in the attack. He again points to Iran…

Where are the other three Khobar Towers suspects?
Salman Aldosary

All the 19 years he spent living in hiding, under assumed identities, did not protect Ahmed Al-Mughassil from being eventually caught. Mughassil, who thought he had escaped from justice, was caught by the Saudi authorities in a complex intelligence operation this month. It is not surprising that Mughassil was living in Iran, using forged Iranian ID cards all along. What would have been really surprising is if the scenario was different: that Iran had no hand in the terrorist bombing that killed 19 US airmen and injured 372 others and that it did not provide the perpetrators with shelter over the past two decades. Following the discovery and arrest of Mughassil, three out of the 14 suspects remain at large. Where are they? Who operates their movements and hides their identities?

Guesswork aside, the other three suspects presumably live in Iran, the country accused of standing behind the terrorist bombing. Even if they were not there, they must have received orders from Tehran to return immediately since Mughassil’s arrest. There is no country in the whole world capable of defying the United States and the international community, sheltering fugitives and terrorists, but Iran. It previously did that with Al-Qaeda members—something which could be supported with evidence. It cannot be imagined that the suspects—Ali Al-Houri, Ibrahim Al-Yacoub and Abdel karim Al-Nasser—who are also members of the so-called Hezbollah Al-Hejaz, an Iran-allied group, have escaped the Interpol’s clutches without some country providing them with shelter and legal cover.

August:29:2015 - 08:33 | Comments Off | Permalink

The slaughter of animals, primarily sheep but also camels, is a part of Eid Al-Adha which marks the end of Haj. This year, due to the presences of MERS in Saudi Arabia, the sacrifice of camels will be banned. While the exact route of transmission of the disease is still not perfectly known, it is known that camels play some role. So, in the interest of safety, they’re not going to be available this year. The ban will have economic consequences for Egypt, Sudan, and Somalia, traditional sources of camels brought into Saudi Arabia. Antibodies to the MERS virus have been found in at least some camels across the Middle East though the disease is more prevalent in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States.

No camel slaughter during this Haj

RIYADH: In a major step toward preventing the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) among pilgrims, the Kingdom will impose a ban on sacrificing camels as part of the Haj rituals this year.

As part of the pilgrimage, each person must sacrifice or pay for part of the sacrifice of a sheep, goat, cow or camel. The cooked meat is then shared with the poor.

Camels are thought to harbor the virus, and health officials suspect that sporadic zoonotic transmission plays a role in fueling MERS-CoV transmission in the Middle East, especially in the Kingdom, the hardest-hit country.

During the past 48 hours, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has reported three deaths and 15 new MERS cases.

August:22:2015 - 07:38 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that the Saudi government is going to be strictly enforcing its permitting process during Haj. The government announced stiff fines and jail sentences for those caught “people-smuggling” individuals lacking Haj permits into Mecca. Expat smugglers will be deported upon release from jail.

Pilgrim smugglers sternly warned

RIYADH — The Ministry of Interior has issued a stern warning to motorists transporting people who intend perform Haj without permit to Makkah and the holy sites.

It said any driver found transporting illegal pilgrims would be arrested, imprisoned for 15 days and his vehicle seized.

The illegal pilgrim, whether he is a Saudi or an expatriate, faces a fine of SR10,000. If the driver repeats the offense, he will be jailed for two months and will have to pay a fine of SR25,000 for every pilgrim he transported.

If the driver repeats the violation again after he was punished for a second time, the prison term will be raised to six months and the amount of fine to SR50,000.

Expatriate violators will be deported upon release from prison and will be barred from entering the Kingdom for a specified period. The ministry said the decision would be enforced during this Haj season.

August:15:2015 - 06:55 | Comments Off | Permalink

Wow! Just wow!

For some reason, Saudi Gazette saw fit to translate one of the more sweeping pieces of idiocy I’ve seen in the Saudi press for quite some time. The article, appearing in the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh falls in the pits of conspiracy theory in a rather breathtaking way. ISIS is the creation of foreign enemies, Zionists, and Free-Masons! Zionists are being embedded in Saudi society to destroy it from within! There’s nothing wrong with Saudi schools or their curriculum and all criticism is foreign-inspired!

Are we the ones exporting terror?
Abdullah Al-Nasser | Al-Riyadh

Are we the ones exporting terrorism to the world? I raise this serious question because the Kingdom’s enemies no longer cause any uproar over this. Neither the Zionists, the American ultra right, the hate groups in the West, nor the Magian Iran does raise this issue any more. However, we discern this when some people in Zionist garbs in our country talk or make their presentations.

Earlier, the fingers were pointed at us from afar. Then they showed their ugly face in the press and on television. Frankly, I am sure there are Zionists who have been planted among us. These are agents who had been given exhaustive training. They were selected with utmost care after studying their psyche, mentality, inclinations, deviations and moral upbringing. Then they were placed among us in suitable jobs so they would gradually rise to key positions in the Arab media, as loyal and efficient agents serving the Zionist scheme and defending it with ferocity and zeal.

I wrote many times about such people and warned against their machinations and the danger they pose to the Muslim nation. I said that they are a disgraceful lot and an evil. When we take them in our fold and trust them, we are keeping evil, treachery and meanness with us. Exposing them is a duty to the nation and the Ummah. There is no more time for civility or shutting our eyes before their mean practices.

August:13:2015 - 07:11 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

In his column for Al Arabiya TV, Abdulrahman al-Rashed notes that arguments that the lack of “moderates” in the political sphere is what leads to extremism are sorely lacking in evidential support. Empowering moderates does not lead to inclusive governments. Instead, it leads to moderates seizing power and attempting to impose their political views — which aren’t very moderate after all — on the population and to do away with their opponents.

He looks at Iran, Sudan, Gaza, and Egypt where once religious parties gained control, they did their utmost to ensure that there was only one orthodoxy: theirs. Worse, their assumption of power led to no decrease in actual extremism in the name of religion. A failed experiment that relied on unrealistic views of human behavior.

The theory of terrorism and restraining moderates
Abdulrahman al-Rashed

hose affiliated with religious groups have for long reiterated that the emergence of extremist Islamic groups is due to the restraining of “moderate” Islamic ones. Western governments were convinced of this for a while and thus began to urge Arab governments to allow religious groups in politics and include them in governance, either democratically or through partnership and quotas.

It may seem reasonable that including moderates leads to the expelling of extremists, but this theory is not supported with evidence – at least in our Arab arena. These concept of participation for these groups means a monopolizing of authority. They are not like Turkey and Indonesia’s Islamic groups who work and govern under a secular system and whose “Islamic liberalism” looks nothing like the extremism of Islamist Arabs. The aim of politicized religious groups is to attain power regardless of the rhetoric adopted and the means used in order to later create a dominating regime and eliminate others!

Based on experience, it’s been proven that most Arab religious parties are exclusionary despite all their talk about moderation and co-existence. There are many examples on the case from our modern history and I will resort to four of them to elaborate my point. The first experience was Iran. The masses who protested in the streets of Tehran and called for toppling the Shah and received Ayatollah Khomeini at the airport were a mixture of political parties who agreed on establishing a regime that allows pluralism.

August:12:2015 - 08:17 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Just in time for Haj, a new virus is being identified as a potential threat in Saudi Arabia, Arab News reports. Zika virus, related to Dengue Fever and Yellow Fever, is another mosquito-borne disease. It is milder in its effects than some of its cousins, but is no joy. The article notes that the Ministry of Health will be doing their normal three-phase screening to prevent outbreaks of disease, including pre-departure, arrival, and during Haj.

Ministry takes precautionary measures against new virus

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Health has put in place its precautionary plan and procedures aimed at preventing the entry of the Zika virus during the Haj season this year.

This involves examining those arriving from countries affected by the virus, isolating infected individuals and providing treatment at ministry hospitals when necessary.

According to Dr. Khaled Marghalani, spokesman at the Health Ministry, symptoms fever, skin rashes, redness of the eyes and pain in the joints, all of which may disappear within days or weeks. Cases that need to be admitted to hospitals are rare and the illness is transmitted by mosquitoes, said public health experts at the ministry.

Marghalani said the public health program applied by the ministry annually during the pilgrimage season is an integrated program that covers three phases: pre-arrival of the pilgrims, upon their arrival at ports of entry, and finally during their presence at the Haj sites.

August:09:2015 - 07:29 | Comments Off | Permalink

Amid public denunciation of the suicide bombing of a mosque in the Asir Province, Saudi authorities have identified the bomber as a Saudi national. Fifteen were killed and another 33 injured, Saudi Gazette reports:

Asir bomber was a Saudi

JEDDAH – The terrorist act last Thursday at the special emergency forces mosque in Asir region was carried out by 21-year-old Saudi suicide bomber Yusuf Bin Sulaiman Bin Abdullah Al-Sulaiman, security spokesman of the Ministry of Interior stated to SPA.

The blast took place on Thursday while the personnel of the special emergency forces in Asir region were performing Dhuhr (mid-day) prayer in congregation in the mosque at the forces’ headquarters.

The bombing martyred 15 people and injured 33 others. Shreds and human body parts were found at the scene of the incident believed to be the result of a blast using an explosive vest.

The authorities, following investigations of the heinous crime, said the bombing was carried out by the suicide bomber using an explosive vest.

The security authorities are still following up on the terrorist incident.

August:09:2015 - 07:16 | Comments Off | Permalink
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