Saudi Arabia announced that it will be deploying tens of thousands of troops around the pilgrimage sites in and around Makkah to ensure the safety of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims participating in this year’s annual Hajj.
Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki made the announcement in an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday and added that Saudi Arabia has been facing major terrorist attacks and threats over the past several months and years.
“We always concentrate on hajj considering that a threat might exist. We’ve been targeted by terrorism for years now and we know that we are a target for terrorist groups.”
According to the Associated Press, approximately 3 million Muslim pilgrims will be traveling to Makkah, Saudi Arabia to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage, one of Islam’s most important acts of worship. While the massive numbers this year are not new to the Saudi kingdom, the context of this year’s Hajj is quite different.
With several ISIS attacks on mosques in several cities in Saudi Arabia, and with a war being fought just south of its border in Yemen, the threats to this year’s Hajj are much more serious.
To counter the threat to the Hajj this year, the Saudi interior minister has deployed elite counter-terrorism units along with the police force to protect the millions of Muslims pilgrims converging onto the holy sites from around the globe.
“We’re active, we’re awake,” Mansour al-Turki told the Associated Press.
Arab news network Alarabiya reported that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said his country is prepared to protect the lives of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and that security preparations are already in place to respond to any potential acts of terrorism.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is determined and resolved to avoid terrorist acts over the past years in order to preserve the sanctity of our religion and its holy places and the lives of innocent people,” he said.
“The security services in various sectors are fully ready to face any action that might cause harm to the sites and the pilgrims.”
Dozens of pilgrims have already lost their lives in non-violent cases in Saudi Arabia. More than a hundred pilgrims lost their lives after a massive construction crane collapsed on the Grand Mosque in Makkah, as the AFP reported. The Associated Press reported that over a thousand people had to evacuate an 11-story hotel after a fire was set ablaze.
Saudi Arabia has a major task to protect over 2 million pilgrims during the Hajj from the various threats the country faces today.
[Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images]