Crane Crashes on Saudi Grand Mosque, Killing Dozens Ahead of Hajj
Just weeks before hundreds of thousands of Muslims will flock to Mecca for their annual religious pilgrimage, a crane collapsed Friday on the city’s Grand Mosque — Islam’s holiest site — killing at least 87 people and injuring more than 150. The crane was reportedly working on a construction project intended to expand the worship ...
Just weeks before hundreds of thousands of Muslims will flock to Mecca for their annual religious pilgrimage, a crane collapsed Friday on the city’s Grand Mosque -- Islam’s holiest site -- killing at least 87 people and injuring more than 150.
Just weeks before hundreds of thousands of Muslims will flock to Mecca for their annual religious pilgrimage, a crane collapsed Friday on the city’s Grand Mosque — Islam’s holiest site — killing at least 87 people and injuring more than 150.
The crane was reportedly working on a construction project intended to expand the worship space to cope with the millions of worshipers who visit the site each year. In Islam, Muslims are required to visit the Hajj at least once in their lifetime if they are able, and in recent years as many as millions of people have made the trek annually. This year’s Hajj will take place in September.
It was not immediately clear how or why the crash took place, although there have been heavy winds and sandstorms passing through the Arabian peninsula in recent weeks.
Photos surfacing on Twitter showed a lightning bolt flashing through the sky behind the crane, but those photos could not be independently verified by Foreign Policy. Other photos showed massive damage and human carnage at the crash site.
An unverified YouTube video of the crash, which appears to have been taken on a smartphone, documents the chaos in the minute after the crane fell. In the background, one man can be heard repeating a Muslim testimony of faith, “There is no God but God” again and again, perhaps because he feared for his life.
Certain aspects of the Grand Mosque date back to the 16th century, although it has been expanded multiple times since then.
And this is not the first disaster to take place at the holy site during a period of construction.
In 1979, hundreds of jihadist extremists stormed the mosque and managed to take control of it for two weeks, with 100,000 people inside.
Hundreds were killed during the lengthy hostage crisis, and Saudi forces had to rely on maps and blueprints provided by the bin Laden family to successfully intervene.
Osama bin Laden’s father’s construction company was overseeing the construction project at the time.
According to Yaroslav Trofimov, who authored a book about the 1979 siege, the Saudi response to the attack was a turning point for young bin Laden’s trust in his government. Saudi forces had to use tanks and artillery, which many Muslims opposed bringing to the religion’s holiest site.
“This was the moment when his loyalty to the Saudi regime, which has done so much for his father and his family, began to crumble,” Trofimov told NPR.
The 1979 siege, coming on the heels of the Iranian revolution and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, was the final piece in a traumatic year that helped dramatically reshape Saudi policy. The Kingdom would go on to spend billions of dollars promoting its own Wahhabi brand of Islam around the region and the world to counter Iranian influence — a jockeying for power within Islam that continues to this day.
Photo Credit: Ozkan Bilgin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Siobhán O'Grady was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2016 and was previously an editorial fellow.
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