Saudis deploy 3,500 special forces, 450 combat vehicles to protect Haj sites

Special to

ABU DHABI — Security forces assigned to protect the Islamic
pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia have been bolstered by a huge armored fleet.

The Interior Ministry has approved the deployment of more than 3,500
special forces troops to protect the annual Haj in Mecca. Officials said the
forces would be bolstered by 450 armored combat vehicles.

The Holy Mosque in Mecca.

“They underwent training in rugged terrain such as mountains, and they
are capable of defusing explosives,” Saudi Special Security Forces commander
Lt. Gen. Mohammed Bin Hamad Al Omani said.

In a briefing on Oct. 31, Al Omani said the Haj forces were trained by
unspecified foreign countries. The commander said special forces units would
be deployed in Mecca, Medina and around Islamic sites.

“They are highly qualified in discharging their duties thanks to the
advanced training received by them from foreign countries,” Al Omani said.

Officials said at least two million pilgrims were expected to
participate in the pilgrimage, which begins on Nov. 4. On the following day,
the pilgrims would walk through Mount Arafat in a ceremony that often
resulted in scores of people being crushed to death.

Al Omani did not identify the armored fleet. But he said the combat
vehicles have been equipped with advanced weapons and add-on armor to stop
improvised explosive device attacks.

At the same time, the Interior Ministry has assigned 19 Western-origin
helicopters to secure the pilgrimage. Officials said the helicopters would
be equipped with cameras linked to a command and control headquarters to
ensure persistent surveillance.

“Helicopters will hover around the holy sites and take pictures of all
areas of the sites through digital cameras connected to the operation room,”
Civil Defense Maj. Gen. Mohammad Abdullah Al Qarni said.