Saudi mobilised as 2.5 million pilgrims prepare for hajj | Pakistan Today

Saudi mobilised as 2.5 million pilgrims prepare for hajj

Around 2.5 million Muslims begin Friday the rituals of the hajj pilgrimage, the world’s largest annual assembly, leaving Saudi authorities with a daunting security and safety challenge.
Saudi authorities have mobilised some 100,000 security and civil defence personnel to insure a smooth pilgrimage and avoid deadly incidents that marred the extremely crowded rites in the past.
“We will mobilise all our means to prevent any harm against any pilgrim or any group of pilgrims,” Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, who recently became the crown prince of the Muslim kingdom said on Tuesday.
He made the remark during an inspection tour of hajj preparations as anti-riot and anti-terrorism police paraded in front of the kingdom’s internal security czar as police and rescue helicopters hovered overhead.
The hajj rituals begin Friday and peak on Saturday when all pilgrims assemble in the Arafat plain outside Makkah, and end with Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, which will be celebrated on Sunday.
Around 1.7 million Muslims are due to descent on Makkah from around the world while between 700,000 and 800,000 pilgrims will be coming from inside Saudi Arabia.
Coping with the world’s largest annual human assembly poses a security headache for Saudi Arabia — guardian of the two holiest Muslim shrines in the cities of Makkah and Madinah, the birth places of Islam.
The oil kingpin has invested billions of dollars over the years to avoid deadly stampedes that marred the hajj in the past.
In January 2006, 364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede at the entrance to a bridge leading to the stoning site in Mina, outside Makkah, while 251 were trampled to death in 2004.
In July 1990, 1,426 pilgrims were trampled or asphyxiated to death in a stampede in a tunnel, also in Mina.
The deaths prompted authorities to dismantle the old bridge and replace it with a multi-level with one-way lanes to ensure a smooth flow of pilgrims.
Saudi Arabia also launched a new $10.6-billion project for a new extension to Mecca’s Grand Mosque to increase its capacity to two million worshippers.
Investments also included a light-railway connection linking the holy sites.

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