Fears over Haj security amid increase in Daesh's outreach

Fears over Haj security amid increase in Daeshs outreach
In this Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014 file photo, Saudi security officers monitor Muslim pilgrims, during the annual pilgrimage, known as the hajj, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh - So far, the group's presence in the kingdom appears to be in a low-level stage, but it has claimed four significant bombings since May, one of them in neighbouring Kuwait.



By AP

Published: Fri 11 Sep 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 11 Sep 2015, 9:39 AM

The Daesh group is extending its reach in Saudi Arabia, expanding the scope of its attacks and drawing in new recruits with its radical ideology. Its determination to bring down the government has raised concerns it could threaten the Haj pilgrimage later this month.
So far, the group's presence in the kingdom appears to be in a low-level stage, but it has claimed four significant bombings since May, one of them in neighbouring Kuwait.
"Daesh and its followers have made it very clear that Saudi Arabia is their ultimate target," Saudi analyst Fahad Nazer said. "Because of the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah ... That's their ultimate prize."
An attack last month in which Daesh claimed responsibility appeared to mark a significant spread in the group's reach. Militants claiming loyalty to the group had already carried out three major bombings - two in eastern Saudi Arabia in May and one in Kuwait City in June, all targeting Shia mosques and killing 53 people.
But on August 6, a suicide bomber attacked a mosque inside a police compound in Abha, 350 miles south of Makkah, killing 15 people in the deadliest attack on the kingdom's security forces in years. Eleven of the dead belonged to an elite counterterrorism unit whose tasks include protecting the Haj pilgrimage.
Lori Boghardt, Gulf security analyst at the Washington Institute, said it would not be surprising if Daesh militants tried to take advantage of the Haj to stage an attack, particularly since the group has encouraged lone wolf operations. This year, the Haj begins September 21 and is expected to draw some 3 million Muslims from around the world.
When asked about possible threats of attacks on the Haj, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj-Gen. Mansour Al Turki replied "that security forces will act swiftly and decisively with any violations of laws and instructions related to Haj".
He said the holy sites are protected by a force specifically dedicated to the task and a large number of additional security forces will be deployed during Haj to ensure pilgrims' "security and safety" and manage the traffic of the large crowds. He also pointed to the elaborate security system of surveillance cameras and helicopters that the kingdom implements each year. He could not give exact figures or specify whether the deployment would be larger this year. - AP


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