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Saudi Officials Foil Suspected Terror Plot as Hajj Comes to a Close

By VOA News

Muslims circle around the holy Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
(file photo, 2006)

Authorities in Saudi Arabia said Friday they arrested several members of an al-Qaida-linked group suspected of planning to carry out terrorist attacks during the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Authorities said the group aimed to cause confusion among security forces during the pilgrimage, which ended Friday. Official statements indicated the suspects were arrested late last week, but did not give a specific date for the arrests.

More than two million Muslim pilgrims performed the traditional stoning ritual of the hajj Friday before traveling back to Mecca for the final rites of the pilgrimage.

Pilgrims converged in Mina to cast stones at three massive pillars representing Satan. The ritual is often the most dangerous event during the hajj, but there have been no reports of deaths or major injuries this year.

The pilgrimage ends as worshippers return to Mecca to bid farewell to the black cube-shaped building known as the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site.

Saudi authorities have undertaken several measures to ensure the safety of pilgrims, including the addition of two upper levels to the bridge complex leading to the pillars, in an effort to relieve crowding.

Last year, more than 360 people were killed during a stampede on the bridge leading to the stoning pillars. A similar tragedy in 2004 saw more than 200 people trampled to death.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad performed the hajj this year, as the first Iranian president to attend the pilgrimage.

The hajj is one of the five pillars or obligations of Islam. Every Muslim who is able is required to make the pilgrimage at least once.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

... Payvand News - 12/22/07 ... --

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