ABU DHABI Ñ 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
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.