Riyadh: Saudi Arabia's special anti-terror force has for the first time joined security forces deployed for Haj duties with the pilgrimage beginning on Wednesday.
"These forces have been deployed in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah as well as at the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa," said Major General Mohammad Bin Hamad Al Omani, commander of the Saudi Special Security Forces.
Speaking to reporters, Al Omani said the special force has been assigned the task of ensuring security of staff members and installations belonging to the Ministry of Interior and other government departments and agencies. "All the other security units will also play their role in supporting this unit in fulfilling its mission," he said.
Crowd control duties
According to him, the special force will be equipped with all the necessary units and equipment to foil any terror strike as well as to defuse explosives, and release hostages. It will also support the security forces in crowd control at Jamrat and other areas in the tent city of Mina.
Speaking to Gulf News, Al Omani said that more than 63,000 security personnel will take part in this year's Haj operation. "The Ministry of Interior has mobilised all its forces and resources to ensure the security and safety of Haj pilgrims. "There will be air surveillance for the first time this year.
"This is mainly aimed at preventing infiltration especially in the wake of the ongoing military operation [against Al Houthi rebels in Yemen] in the southern border regions," he said adding that close monitoring of all the checkpoints to Makkah and the holy sites has been started with the beginning of the month of Dhu Al Hijjah.
Al Omani also said his forces had carried out mock drills that simulated the release of hostages on board hijacked aircraft, defusing explosives and shootouts with gunmen, among other situations.
Meanwhile, Brigadier General Abdullah Al Gosham, director of the general department for protection of civilians during Haj, told Gulf News that four shelters with the capacity to accommodate more than 58,000 pilgrims had been kept on stand-by to cope with any unforeseen emergency situation. "There has been complete coordination and cooperation between the civil defence and the government agencies taking part in Haj operations in arranging these shelters.
"These shelters are equipped with all the necessary furniture, furnishings, foodstuffs, and health care services," Al Gosham said, adding that two of the shelters were located at the holy sites of Arafat (each with a capacity of 10,000), with a third in Muzdalifa with a capacity of 30,000 pilgrims and a fourth in Al Moaisem with a capacity of less than 10,000.
more than two million Haj pilgrims and visitors attended Friday prayers at the Haram Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. Some 500,000 pilgrims performed prayers at the Prophet's Mosque as they concluded their visit to the city ahead of moving on to Makkah.
According to a report of the Haj Committee in Madinah, a total of 827,695 pilgrims have so far visited Madinah, of which 651,702 left for Makkah as of Friday.
H1N1 control: All steps in place
The Saudi Ministry of Health has completed all precautionary and preventive measures to contain H1N1 cases among Haj pilgrims. There was no death reported among the pilgrims. So far, a total of 20 cases of H1N1 flu have been detected among foreign pilgrims who have arrived in the kingdom. Twelve have made full recoveries and eight continue to receive treatment in isolation, according to the ministry sources.
Health minister Abdullah Al Rabeah said that prevention of H1N1 flu has been a top priority for his ministry. "The Preventive Medicine Department and the Haj Committee have assigned a special workforce of 80 intensive care and family medicine consultants and experts from the US to handle cases during Haj," Al Rabeah said.
According to the minister, some 1,500,000 doses of vaccine have been made available at hospitals in the holy sites for pilgrims and a 100-bed isolation centre has been opened at King Abdul Aziz Airport in Jeddah. "There are also 16,000 beds ready in Makkah and a further 2,800 at the holy sites zone — with 500 for emergencies — as well as 14,000 ready in Madinah," he said, adding that laboratories in Jeddah, Makkah, Madinah and Taif had been set up to accelerate early detection.
Pilgrim numbers cross 2 million
More than two million pilgrims and visitors attended Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. Some 500,000 pilgrims performed prayers at the Prophet's Mosque before moving on to Makkah.
According to a report of the Haj Committee in Madinah, a total of 827,695 pilgrims have so far visited Madinah, of which 651,702 had left for Makkah as of Friday.