Saudi authorities said Saturday the annual hajj pilgrimage would go ahead despite a crane collapse that killed 107 people at Mecca’s Grand Mosque.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have already arrived in Mecca for the hajj, one of the world’s largest religious gatherings which last year drew two million worshippers.
Parts of the Grand Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, remained sealed off Saturday around the remains of the red and white crane, accentuating the crush of humanity inside.
Worshippers thronged the mosque as the midday call to prayer sounded, according to an Agence France Presse reporter.
Indonesians and Indians were among those killed when the crane collapsed during a storm on what is the main weekly prayer day for Muslims. Around 200 others were injured.
Hajj to Go ahead
A Saudi official said this year’s hajj, expected to start on September 21, would proceed despite the tragedy. “It definitely will not affect the hajj this season and the affected part will probably be fixed in a few days,” said the official, who declined to be named.
As world leaders offered condolences, the governor of Mecca region, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, ordered an investigation into the incident.
Abdel Aziz Naqoor, who said he works at the mosque, told AFP he saw the massive construction crane fall after being hit by the storm.
“If it weren’t for Al-Tawaf bridge the injuries and deaths would have been worse,” he said, referring to a covered walkway that surrounds the holy Kaaba, which broke the crane’s fall.
Irfan al-Alawi, co-founder of the Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, compared the carnage to that caused by a bomb.
He suggested authorities were negligent by having a series of cranes overlooking the mosque.
“They do not care about the heritage, and they do not care about health and safety,” he told AFP.
Alawi is an outspoken critic of redevelopment at the holy sites, which he says is wiping away tangible links to the Prophet Mohammed.