Saudis increase security during Islamic pilgrimage

Special to World
Friday, February 7, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia has increased security amid the annual Islamic pilgrimage to the kingdom.

Saudi officials said the security measures include a warning to Islamic militants against exploiting the arrival of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to foment unrest. The officials said the warning was relayed to Islamic circles regarded as close to Al Qaida.

"We will deal with them with an iron fist," Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz said.

Prince Nayef told a news conference on Wednesday that the kingdom has concluded what he termed were maximum security precautions for the Haj, or Islamic pilgrimage. Nayef was also briefed on security plans and reviewed police and paramilitary forces deployed to protect the pilgrims.

"Our security precautionary measures for the Haj this year are of the highest order," Nayef said.

The Islamic pilgrimage was launched as security forces have engaged in several shootouts with suspected Al Qaida insurgents over the last month.

Several people, including security officers, have been killed or injured in the attacks.

Nayef said the kingdom has detained a maximum of 250 Al Qaida members. He said the suspected members are being investigated.

At the same time, a leading Saudi cleric has appealed to Islamic militants to demonstrate tolerance toward visiting pilgrims and others in the kingdom. In a statement published in Saudi newspapers on Thursday, Sheik Abdul Aziz Abdullah Al Sheik, the mufti of Saudi Arabia, warned against the use of violence toward those regarded as blasphemers. The sheik said clear evidence must be obtained before anyone is accused of blasphemy.

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