Saudi Security Forces Brace for Haj but No Militant Threats Detected
The world's largest annual gathering of Muslims has in the past seen deadly stampedes, fires and riots, with authorities sometimes struggling to respond.
Saudi Interior Ministry Spokesman Mansour Turki said the security services had dismantled a number of militant cells in Mecca and Medina over the past few years.
"We normally have the same numbers of security forces during haj and the number exceeds 100,000 members categorized into many tasks with a priority to maintain the security,” Turki said. “For each security member there are two tasks: the first is to secure the pilgrims and the other is related to the plan which every member has to implement in his their area."
Saudi Arabia, which stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam's holiest sites and organizing the haj, has been hit by bombings by the Islamic State (ISIS) in the past two years. The Islamist militant group, which launched attacks around the world after seizing large swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014, is now on its back foot in those countries.
"From our expertise and experience with al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, we know that their cells or members do not disappear just because the organisation is defeated,” Turki said. “So we do not overlook the reality of such potential threats and we take all necessary preventative measures to prevent any member from reaching the two holy cities, or carrying out any crimes that threaten the security and safety of pilgrims at the Grand Mosque."
Saudi Arabia said in April it had arrested 46 members of a militant cell responsible for a deadly suicide bombing attack on the Prophet's Mosque in the holy city of Medina last summer that was blamed on ISIS.
The suspects, including foreign and Saudi citizens, were detained in the Western port city of Jeddah, state news agency SPA quoted the interior ministry as saying.
ISIS has lost a significant amount of territory in Iraq and Syria. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraq would announce victory against ISIS in Tal Afar soon and reaffirmed that Iraq aims to destroy ISIS, not to contain them.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) operation to regain the militant group’s de facto capital in Raqqa is ongoing.
Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF Press Media, said on Monday (August 28) the group has regained 70 percent of Raqqa.