The head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization says Saudi officials barred Iranians from taking part in 2016 Hajj pilgrimage as they fear more revelations on the scope of a deadly human crush last year.
Saeed Ohadi said on Saturday that Riyadh “strangely fear the presence of Iranian pilgrims and disclosures on the Mina disaster with regard to the failure of Saudi officials in ensuring the safety of pilgrims; therefore, they created obstacles for our pilgrims.”
“One of the reasons that the Saudis refused to accept Iranian pilgrims is because of their concern about the exposure of the number of martyrs in Mina as well as contacts between Iranian pilgrims and those from other countries,” Ohadi said.
On September 24, 2015, thousands of people lost their lives near Mecca after two large masses of pilgrims converged at a crossroads during the symbolic ceremony of the stoning of Satan.
The crush was the deadliest incident in the history of the pilgrimage. According to an Associated Press count based on official statements from the 36 countries that lost citizens in the disaster, more than 2,400 pilgrims were killed in the incident.
Saudi Arabia claims nearly 770 people were killed in the incident, but officials at Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization say about 4,700 people, including over 460 Iranian pilgrims, lost their lives.
A Muslim pilgrim walks through the site where dead bodies are gathered at the site of a crush in Mina, near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, September 24, 2015.©AP
Elsewhere in his remarks, the Iranian official noted that the fate of many victims from countries other than Iran is still not known.
The Islamic Republic is the only country that managed to determine the fate of all its missing and dead nationals thanks to the decisive remarks by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei in that regard, he added.
The Leader had called on Riyadh following the disaster to accept its responsibility in the tragedy, help repatriate the bodies of the dead to Iran quickly and provide treatment to the injured.
Ohadi further accused the Riyadh regime of having adopted a “wrong approach” both prior to the incident and in dealing with its aftermath.
“This year, we adopted a dignified position in talks with Saudis and undoubtedly, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s performance would make Saudi Arabia step back and accept the duty to ensure the safety of our pilgrims,” Ohadi said.
Last month, Iranian authorities cancelled Hajj after Saudi Arabia refused to guarantee the safety of its pilgrims and made unconventional demands instead. The decision came following several rounds of failed negotiations.
On May 29, Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati also slammed Riyadh for manipulating Hajj for its own “political” goals.