It is time for the great Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, which every California public school student well knows is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Snipers, bomb squads and border guards have marched to the clatter of helicopters in this holy city as the authorities staged a show of force meant to deter violence with two million Muslims arriving for the haj.
In a tough warning, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said security forces would ‘firmly and forcefully’ crush any attempt to undermine security during the annual pilgrimage.
‘We are ready for anything that could happen,’ he said after a tour of Mecca to check the facilities for the pilgrims. . . .
Diplomats say the Saudi government is deeply worried the haj could become a target for attack or be used as a cover for militants to infiltrate the kingdom.
‘We always say there is no guarantee that nothing could happen, but we trust the security forces to be able to do their job,’ Prince Nayef told reporters.
‘All efforts are being made to secure the house of God. We give confidence to the pilgrims so they can safely carry out their rituals,’ he added.
Around 5,000 troops including anti-terrorist forces in black balaclavas, elite special forces and crowd control personnel on Tuesday performed a march past Prince Nayef on the plain of Arafat, one of the main pilgrimage sites near Mecca.
While Mecca is crawling with troops, an Al-Qaeda communique complains about the arrest of one of its operatives as “a flagrant violatation of the inviolable sanctity of the holy month.” Hmmm.
However, while the troops in balaclavas secured the peace, the imam who preached the sermon yesterday was feeling less than peaceful. This from AP:
The cleric who delivered the sermon Friday at the annual hajj pilgrimage had a simple request: God grant victory to Muslims fighting around the world.
The prayer by Sheik Saleh al-Taleb to 500,000 people in Mecca’s Grand Mosque and nearby streets came as the hajj neared its climax.
“Oh God, give victory to the mujahedeen (holy warriors) everywhere,” al-Taleb said. “Give them victory in Palestine. Oh God, make the Muslims triumphant and destroy their enemies, and make this country and other Muslim countries safe. Oh God, inflict your wrath on the criminal Zionists.” . . .
Rajab al-Arabi, a Belgian pilgrim of Tunisian origin, said hearing a Grand Mosque sermon is “something one wishes all one’s life. It’s a dream come true.”
But he added that he had expected a stronger message.
“In Belgium, we have Egyptian and Moroccan clerics who freely criticize the hardships of Muslims, which includes the injustice that has befallen Iraq and the occupation it is under,” he said.