Mecca Carnage Caused by VIPs Visiting Saudi King: UK-Based Hajj Adviser

Mecca Carnage Caused by VIPs Visiting Saudi King: UK-Based Hajj Adviser

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A British-based Hajj adviser said the Saudi royal family has caused the deadly crowd crush that killed hundreds of pilgrims, as relatives of British Muslims on the pilgrimage continued to wait for news of loved ones.

With the Saudi authorities facing mounting criticism of their safety record at the Hajj, Mohammad Jafari, who advises a UK-based Hajj tour firm, said that the deadly crush had been caused by police closing two road entrances because of a visit by VIPs to the nearby palace of King Salman, the Saudi monarch.

"The main reason for this accident was that the King in his palace was receiving dignitaries... and for this reason they closed two of the entrances, where people were not able to proceed. If you stop that stream and the population builds up, eventually there is going to be accidents,"Mr Jafari said, The Daily Telegraph reported on Saturday.

Mr Jafari made the remarks as the UK Foreign Office continued to make inquiries about the welfare of British pilgrims, thousands of whom attend the Hajj every year.

There has been no reports of British pilgrims among the casualties, but Saleem Kidwai, of the Muslim Council of Wales, said his organization was still waiting to hear back from one of three 40-strong groups of pilgrims.

"Two group leaders have conveyed messages saying they are OK, while the last we have not yet heard from," Mr Kidwai told The Telegraph. "That does not necessarily mean bad news as communications are not good there, but we are obviously concerned."

King Salman has ordered "a revision" of how the Hajj is organized in the wake of the tragedy, which is the ninth major incident of its kind in Mecca in the past 25 years.

While Saudi officials have tried to pin the blame on the pilgrims themselves, saying that they failed to follow strict timetables as to when and where to walk, witnesses say it was caused by poor crowd management and unexpected road closures.

"There was no room to manoeuvre," said Aminu Abubakar, a senior Nigerian journalist with the AFP news agency who was on the pilgrimage, who only escaped the crush of bodies because he was heading a procession. Last night he spoke of how parents tried to save their children from the crush by throwing them into a nearby pilgrims' camp.

"They threw them on rooftops, mostly tent-tops," he said. "Most of them couldn't make it."

Khalid Anis, a member of the executive board of the Islamic Society of Britain, urged Britain to use its diplomatic influence in Saudi Arabia to ensure that there was an "open and transparent" inquiry into the incident. A British company, CrowdVision, has provided the Saudi authorities with specialist crowd-control technology for the Hajj, although on Thursday the firm said its devices did not cover the area where the accident took place.

"It's already turned into a blame game and we have no idea of the story. So I'm not confident that it will be sorted, and people will still go to Hajj and put themselves at risk on something which should be spiritual and peaceful," Mr Anis added.

Dr Sean McLouglin, a senior lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Leeds who has studied British Muslims' experience of Hajj, said many pilgrims were frustrated at the quality of their visits. The Saudi goverment has expanded the numbers of pilgrims in recent decades, from fewer than 100,000 in 1950 to around three million today.

But critics say the expansion has focused more on providing expensive hotels and shopping malls that benefit only the wealthiest vistors, rather than on ensuring safety procedures that benefit all.

"For the last ten years there hasn't been a serious incident at the Hajj, and it seemed things had improved, but when more than 700 people lose their life, it does make you wonder if there is something wrong with the scale of what is going on," Mr McLoughlin told The Telegraph.

"I have been talking to pilgrims for more than 15 years, and in those early days everyone was really talking about certain parts of the Hajj could be dangerous because of the crowds, with women and children and the eldery kept away because it was such a squash. But in recent years, people have telling me things had got much better."

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