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Saturday, 9 February, 2002, 17:17 GMT
Hajj 'will not be anti-US'
Hajj pilgrims at the Grand Mosque, Mecca
Some 2.5 million are expected to make the trip
Saudi Arabia will not allow the Hajj - the annual pilgrimage to Islam's holiest sites - to be used to denounce the United States, the governor of Mecca has been quoted as saying on Saturday.

"We will not allow the manipulation of Hajj this year because it is a season for worship," Prince Abdul Majid, governor of Mecca and head of the central Hajj committee, told the Okaz daily newspaper.

Hajj pilgrims in Mecca
Able-bodied Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage at least once
His remarks came in response to a question on whether rallies held during the pilgrimage, which starts in late February, to denounce the United States will be tolerated.

In the 1980s, Iranian pilgrims held annual rallies in Mecca denouncing the United States and Israel.

In 1987, 402 people, mostly Iranian pilgrims, were killed after security forces clashed with Iranians staging an anti-US demonstration.

Politics-free

However, during the past few years the pilgrimage to Mecca has been virtually free of political activity, with the nearly two million pilgrims making the journey abiding by Saudi laws.

Jeddah airport
The airport has a specially dedicated Hajj Terminal

It was reported on Friday that eye-scanning and finger-printing devices had been installed at nearby Jeddah Airport, in a drive to tighten security amid terrorism fears at this month's event.

Individuals selected randomly and considered "suspicious" among the hundreds of thousands of Muslims arriving for the event will be taken aside to have their irises digitally scanned.

There have been fears the huge Muslim gathering could be a recruiting ground for those in sympathy with al-Qaeda.

Osama Bin Laden has stated his objection to the presence of 5,000 US troops that share Saudi soil with some of the holiest sites of Islam.

And American investigators have said that 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 11 September attacks were Saudis, as were - according to the Saudi Government - 100 of the first 158 prisoners taken to Guantanamo Bay.

Religious ritual

The government has mobilised 60,000 employees and volunteers who will be deployed in Mecca, including more than 9,000 medical staff and doctors.

More than half a million Muslim pilgrims have already arrived in Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage that is due to begin in less than two weeks, after 17 February.

Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it is required to make the Hajj at least once in a lifetime.

An estimated 2.5 million people are expected to attend this year's rituals.

See also:

08 Feb 02 | Middle East
Eye-scanners installed for Hajj security
07 Feb 02 | South Asia
Stranded pilgrims fly out of Dhaka
29 Jan 02 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia 'still friends' with US
19 Jan 02 | South Asia
Saudi Arabia pledges Afghan aid package
19 Dec 01 | Middle East
Riyadh: Bin Laden video is 'genuine'
30 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
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