MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AFP) -Saudi Arabia has deployed some 60,000 men to enforce security in the annual hajj as more than 2.5 Muslim pilgrims are expected to converge on the holy city of Mecca, the interior minister said.
“The (number) of forces taking part in security in the hajj this year is around 60,000,” Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz told reporters as he inspected security preparations.
Fire brigades and civil defense authorities are also included in the security team, which is to number 10,000 more men than last year.
Thousands of members of the special forces, as well as commandos, medics and firemen paraded in front of the Prince Naif at the emergency special forces base near Mecca, in a show which has become an annual event ahead of the hajj season.
Thousands of blue-uniformed riot police, armed with batons and shields, also marched, ready to deploy.
Saudi Arabia has been battling a wave of violence by Al-Qaeda-linked militants who have carried out attacks that have left more than 100 people dead, including many foreigners, since May 2003.
Prince Naif said there had been no early alerts of a possible terrorist attack, but forces had to be ready regardless.
“We always expect the worst, and we continue our preparations to face any emergency whatever it is and whoever is behind it,” he said.
Last year, some 10,000 officers were deployed to deal with any security developments, amongst 50,000 men in total, the interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki told AFP at the time.
The desert kingdom, home to two of Islam’s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, last year received some 1.5 million foreign pilgrims.
All Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam, at least once in their lifetime if they have the means to do so.