Saudi authorities said yesterday that Islam’s annual hajj pilgrimage will go ahead despite a crane collapse that killed 107 people at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, where crowds returned to pray a day after the tragedy.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had already arrived in Mecca for the hajj, a must for all able-bodied Muslims who can afford it, when the massive red and white crane collapsed during rain and high winds on Friday.
Condolences came in from around the world, including from Arab leaders, as well as from Britain, Canada, India and Nigeria.
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday commiserated with the people and leadership of Saudi Arabia, His Majesty, King Salman, as well as the Islamic community worldwide \over the tragic loss of lives in the accident.
As details of the deaths and injuries sustained in the unfortunate incident unfold, Buhari has directed the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nigerian Embassy in Saudi Arabia to closely monitor developments and take necessary action to ensure the security and well-being of all Nigerian pilgrims.
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, said Buhari also urged all Nigerians to pray for the continued safety of their compatriots who were currently in Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj.
He prayed that Almighty Allah would receive the souls of those killed in the incident and grant the injured speedy recovery.
The accident occurred only about an hour before evening mahgrib prayers on the Muslim weekly day of prayer. Indonesians and Indians were among those killed when the crane collapsed, while the injured included Malaysians, Egyptians and Iranians according to Associated Press.
High winds were to blame for the toppling of the massive crane that smashed into the Grand Mosque, the head of Saudi Arabia’s civil defense directorate said yesterday.
Parts of the Grand Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, remained sealed off yesterday around the toppled crane, which also injured around 280 people when it fell into a courtyard. But there was little mourning among pilgrims, who snapped pictures of the wreckage and continued with their prayers and rituals.
“I wish I had died in the accident, as it happened at a holy hour and in a holy place,” Egyptian pilgrim Mohammed Ibrahim told AFP.
A Saudi official said the 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.
An investigative committee has “immediately and urgently” begun searching for the cause of the collapse, the official Saudi Press Agency said. The contractor has been directed to ensure the safety of all other cranes at the site, it added.
For years, work has been underway on a 400,000 square metre (4.3 million square feet) expansion of the Grand Mosque to allow it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once.
Abdel Aziz Naqoor, who said he works at the mosque, told AFP he saw the massive construction crane fall during 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 which broke the crane’s fall and surrounds the holy Kaaba.
The Kaaba is a massive cube-shaped structure at the centre of the mosque towards which Muslims worldwide pray. A witness said the winds were so strong that they shook his car and tossed billboards around.
Pictures of the incident on Twitter showed bloodied bodies strewn across the courtyard, where part of the crane came to rest atop an ornate, arched and colonnaded section of the complex. A video on YouTube showed people screaming and rushing around following a loud crash.
Saudis and foreigners lined up in the street to give blood in response to the tragedy.
Irfan al-Alawi, co-founder of the Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, suggested that 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 Muslim Prophet Mohammed.
But an engineer for Saudi Binladin Group, the developer, told AFP the crane was installed in “an extremely professional way” and there was no technical problem. “It was an act of God,” he said.
The crane was one of several surrounding the mosque to support an ongoing expansion of the sanctuary. Steep hills and low-rise traditional buildings that once surrounded the mosque have in recent years given way to shopping malls and luxury hotels — among them the world’s third-tallest building, a giant clock tower that is the centerpiece of the Abraj al-Bait complex.
The construction giant Saudi Binladin Group, is leading the mosque expansion and also built the Abraj al-Bait project.
The Binladin family has been close to the ruling Al Saud family for decades and oversees major building projects around the country. The Binladen family disowned one of its many members, late al-Queda leader Osama bin Laden, in the 1990