MECCA: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman vowed on Saturday to find out what caused a crane collapse that killed 107 people at Mecca’s Grand Mosque ahead of the annual haj pilgrimage.
The haj, a pillar of the Muslim religion which last year drew about two million faithful, will take place despite Friday’s tragedy, Saudi authorities said as crowds returned to pray a day after the incident.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had already arrived in Mecca when the massive red and white crane toppled over during a Friday thunderstorm.
“We will investigate all the reasons and afterwards declare the results to the citizens,” Salman said after visiting the site, one of Islam’s holiest.
Parts of the Grand Mosque remained sealed off on Saturday around the wreckage of the crane, which also injured around 200 people when it crashed into a courtyard.
Pictures of the incident on Twitter showed bloodied bodies strewn across the courtyard, where part of the crane had landed atop an ornate, arched and colonnaded section of the complex.
Pilgrims take pictures in front of a crane that collapsed at the Grand Mosque —————
Irfan al-Alawi, co-founder of the Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, suggested that the authorities had been 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 said.
Alawi is an outspoken critic of redevelopment at the Muslim holy sites, which he says is wiping away tangible links to the Prophet Mohammed.
But an engineer for the Saudi Binladin Group, the developer, said the crane had been installed in “an extremely professional way” and that there had been no technical problem.
“It was an act of God”, he said.
There was little mourning among pilgrims, who snapped pictures of the collapsed metal 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 said.
Um Salma, a Moroccan pilgrim, said “our phones have not stopped ringing since yesterday with relatives calling to check on us”.
Indonesians and Indians were among those killed when the crane collapsed, while the injured included Malaysians, Egyptians, Iranians, Turks, Afghans and Pakistanis.
“Suddenly, I heard thunder and then we heard a very loud noise. That was the sound of the crane falling,” Mohammed, a Moroccan pilgrim, said.
Another visitor caught up in the tragedy, Ahmed from Egypt, said he and those around him were “very scared, hysterical even”.
The contractor, engaged in a major expansion of the mosque, has been directed to ensure the safety of all other cranes at the site, it added.
The cranes soar skywards over the sprawling expansion taking place beneath the Mecca Royal Clock Tower, the world’s third tallest building.
For years, work has been under way on a 400,000-square-metre (4.3-million-square-feet) enlargement of the Grand Mosque to allow it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once.
“We saw people dying before our eyes”, the Arab News quoted Sheikh Abdul Raheem, a witness, as saying.
Saudi Binladin Group belongs to the family of the late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi, former head of Mecca’s religious police, told AFP the accident was a “test” from God.
“We need to accept what happened,” he said.
It was not the first tragedy to strike Mecca pilgrims.
In 2006, several hundred people died in a stampede during the Stoning of the Devil ritual in nearby Mina, following a similar incident two years earlier.
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