Pilgrims’ safety a priority, says Saudi Crown Prince after deadly crane accident

Muslim pilgrims walk past the crane that collapsed the day before at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy Muslim city of Mecca on Sept 12, 2015.
Muslim pilgrims walk past the crane that collapsed the day before at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy Muslim city of Mecca on Sept 12, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AFP) - The safety of Muslim pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia is a priority, the crown prince said Friday, assuring that a deadly crane accident at Islam’s holiest site will not affect this year’s haj.

Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was referring to a tragedy a week ago, when a massive crane being used in work on an expansion of Mecca’s Grand Mosque toppled into a courtyard, killing 108 people.

Another 402 people were injured.

Prince Mohammed, quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency, said the kingdom always “takes into consideration the safety of pilgrims as a priority”.

The incident has been dealt with “in record time with the directives issued by King Salman and.... has no more effect whatsoever on the haj plans for this year.” The prince, who is also interior minister, on Thursday reviewed a parade and drill by security officers demonstrating their readiness to protect the haj from attacks or accidents.

On Tuesday, King Salman sanctioned the contractor, Saudi Binladin Group, after he reviewed an investigative committee’s findings that the firm was “in part responsible” for the crane collapse during severe winds.

He ordered prosecutors to prepare an indictment, excluded the company from new public projects and forbade its executives from leaving the country pending the completion of legal action.

Saudis, Iranians, Nigerians, Malaysians, Indonesians and Indians died in what was the worst haj-related accident in years.

Nine of the dead have yet to be identified, Health Minister Khaled al-Falih said Thursday, with another two bodies still thought to be under the remains of the crane.

With more than 1.2 million pilgrims already crowding Mecca, it is difficult to see the site of the accident among the throng.