Lightning struck Bin Laden group’s crane on Sept. 11 moments before it fell, killing 107 pilgrims

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Special to WorldTribune.com

Iran officials have criticized Saudi Arabia’s administration of the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca after a construction crane disaster killed 107 people on Sept. 11.

The construction crane fell into the east side of the mosque, with its boom crashing through the roof. The crane belongs to a German crane company operated by the Bin Laden family’s consortium, who are heading the expansion of the Grand Mosque, already the world’s largest.

The BinLaden Group was founded by Osama Bin Laden’s billionaire father Mohammed. The group handles many major building contracts in Saudi Arabia.

Construction cranes hover over the Grand Mosque at Mecca.  /Reuters/Ali Al Qarni

Construction cranes hover over the Grand Mosque at Mecca. /Reuters/Ali Al Qarni

The Grand Mosque was full of worshipers for 6:30 evening prayer on Sept. 11 when the crane toppled in heavy rain. Video footage showed lightning struck the crane moments before the disaster.

The annual pilgrimage is considered one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every able-bodied Muslim to perform it at least once in their lifetime. One of the largest religious festivals in the world, last year’s hajj drew two million worshipers from about 160 countries.

Irfan al-Alawi, co-founder of the Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, suggested authorities were negligent by having a series of cranes overlooking the mosque. “They do not care about the heritage, and they do not care about health and safety,” he said.

The Grand Mosque is being expanded so that it can accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once.

Javad Jahangirzadeh, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission said “the Saudi regime showed that it doesn’t have enough capability to secure the safety of the pilgrims and manage the hajj ceremony.”

The annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca will go on as planned despite the tragedy an official said.

The Saudi official, who declined to be named, said: “It definitely will not affect the hajj this season and the affected part will probably be fixed in a few days.” The hajj is expected to begin on Sept. 21 and, so far, some 800,000 pilgrims have already reached Saudi Arabia.

The hajj has seen its share of disasters in the past, mainly from stampedes as pilgrims rushed to complete rituals and return home. Hundreds of pilgrims died in such a stampede in 2006.

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