Saudi Arabia launches crane collapse investigation

King pledges to find out cause of disaster that killed 107 at Mecca's Grand Mosque just days before Hajj pilgrimage.

    Saudi Arabia launches crane collapse investigation
    The contractor has been directed to ensure the safety of all other cranes at the Grand Mosque site [AP]

    Saudi Arabia's King Salman has pledged to find out what caused a crane collapse that killed 107 people at Mecca's Grand Mosque in the run-up to the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

    The Hajj, a pillar of the Muslim religion which last year drew about two million faithful worshippers, will take place despite Friday's tragedy, Saudi authorities said on Saturday as crowds returned to pray.

    Parts of the Grand Mosque remained sealed off around the wreckage of the crane, which also injured about 200 people when it crashed into a courtyard on Friday.

    Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had already arrived in Mecca when the red-and-white crane toppled over during a thunderstorm.

    But there was little mourning among pilgrims, who snapped pictures of the collapsed metal and continued with their prayers and rituals.

    "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.

    Salman, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, said: "My visit today is to check what had happened and know how we can rehabilitate the site again.

    "We will open investigation into the causes of the accident and then announce the results to the public."

    Several nationalities

    Afterwards, Salman paid a visit to Al-Noor Specialist Hospital in Mecca where he was reassured of the health of the injured from several nationalities.

    He also ordered the provision of all medical services to them.

    Indonesians and Indians were among those killed when the crane collapsed, while the injured included Malaysians, Egyptians, Iranians, Turks, Afghans, and Pakistanis.

    Tragedy strikes Mecca Grand Mosque

    Salman expressed his condolences to the families of the dead, and then visited a local hospital "to check on the health of the injured", the official Saudi Press Agency said.

    A Saudi official said the Hajj, expected to start on September 21, would go ahead 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.

    The pilgrimage is a must for all able-bodied Muslims who can afford it.

    An investigative committee has "immediately and urgently" begun searching for the cause of the collapse, SPA reported.

    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 said.

    The cranes soar skywards over the expansion taking place beneath the Mecca Royal Clock Tower, the world's third tallest building.

    Mosque enlargement

    For years, work has been under way on a 4.3-million sq ft enlargement of the Grand Mosque to allow it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once.

    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.

    Indonesians and Indians were among those killed when a crane toppled on the Grand Mosque on Friday [EPA]

    "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 Muslim holy sites, which he says is wiping away tangible links to the Prophet Muhammad.

    But an engineer for the Saudi Binladin Group, the developer, told AFP news agency the crane had been installed in "an extremely professional way" and that there had been no technical problems.

    "It was an act of God," he said.

    Bloodied bodies

    Condolences came in from around the world, including from Arab leaders, as well as from Britain, Canada, India, and Nigeria.

    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.

    It was not the first tragedy to strike Mecca pilgrims, although the Hajj has been practically incident-free in recent years.

    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.

    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, at the same time calling for a thorough investigation.


    SOURCE: Agencies


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