402 Die in Clashes of Saudis, Iranians : Killings at Shrine in Mecca Trigger Attacks on Four Embassies in Tehran
The Saudi Arabian government reported Saturday that 402 people were killed during clashes touched off by Iranian pilgrims in Mecca, where more than 2 million Muslims were making the solemn annual trek to the holiest shrines of Islam.
An official statement read on television said that of the total killed in Friday’s fighting, 275 were Iranians, 85 were Saudi citizens and security men and 42 were pilgrims of other nationalities. More than 600 were wounded, the statement said.
Iran, denouncing Saudi Arabia for what it termed an “unprecedented massacre,” said 200 Iranian pilgrims were killed and thousands were injured by Saudi police.
Responding to their government’s charges, Iranian mobs attacked the Saudi Arabian, Kuwaiti, French and Iraqi embassies in Tehran on Saturday, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported. According to the agency, the demonstrators sacked the Kuwaiti Embassy and repeatedly occupied the Saudi Embassy, where they set fire to cars.
4 Staff Members Abducted
The Saudi government said four staff members at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran were abducted or detained, and it demanded their release.
The attacks on the French and Iraqi missions were described as less serious. Although Iran and Iraq are at war, they maintain embassies in each other’s capital. The Saudis and the Kuwaitis have supported Iraq in the nearly 7-year-old Persian Gulf War aainst Iran, and Kuwait in particular has been the target of a vitriolic Iranian propaganda campaign for its role in Iraq’s war effort.
French diplomats in the Iranian capital have been besieged since France severed relations with Iran in a dispute over an Iranian diplomat’s refusal to answer French police questions about a spate of terrorist bombings in Paris last fall.
U.S. Blamed by Iran
Iran blamed the United States, which is on good relations with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, for the violence in Mecca, and said it would send a team of investigators to Mecca. The government ordered three days of mourning and declared today a “day of hatred” against the United States, and the Iranian Foreign Ministry said the “crime” would not go unanswered.
In recent years, disruption by Iranian pilgrims has become a regular occurrence during the pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj. Last Tuesday, Iran’s spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, called upon the 155,000 Iranians on the annual pilgrimage, the largest foreign contingent, to hold a “unity rally” and seek “deliverance from infidels.”
Saudi Arabia, which is the guardian of the holiest sites of Islam and which is ruled by Sunni Muslims, has banned political demonstrations during the monthlong pilgrimage season. Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, however, the fundamentalist Shia Muslims of Iran have used the Hajj as a platform for demonstrations.
According to news agency reports from Mecca, the clashes began Friday when thousands of Iranians began to demonstrate near the city’s Grand Mosque. The Associated Press quoted witnesses in the city as saying the demonstrators overturned cars and set them on fire.
The agency said the demonstrators, shouting “Death to America! Death to the Soviet Union! Death to Israel!” burned effigies of President Reagan and blocked a number of intersections, preventing residents from passing near the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, which lies within the Grand Mosque.
Iranian President Ali Khamenei, saying many of the Iranian pilgrims died by Saudi police gunfire, termed the violence in Mecca a “U.S.-designed plot” . . . carried out through the Saudis and their police.” The official Iranian news agency asserted that Saudi police “brutally attacked” the Iranian rally and that the Saudis prevented wounded pilgrims from reaching hospitals for several hours.
Mahdi Karrubi, Khomeini’s representative on the pilgrimage, was quoted as telling reporters in Mecca that Saudi police blocked the Iranian march and then began beating demonstrators with clubs. “Suddenly, they started mowing down the marchers with machine guns and hurling suffocating gases at them,” Karrubi was quoted as saying.
The Riyadh government, as quoted on Saudi television, disputed the Iranians’ version. The broadcast quoted Information Minister Ali Hassan Shaer as saying that “not a single bullet was fired” by police at the demonstrators. Rather, he said, “hundreds of Iranians and pilgrims of other nationalities, as well as Saudi citizens, died under the feet of the Iranian pilgrims.”
Saudi television also showed a 15-minute film of the violence in which Iranians were seen throwing stones at Saudi security men equipped with riot shields separating the Iranians from other pilgrims, Reuters news service reported from Bahrain.
The Iranians then charged, and the cordon of security men broke, running into crowds of other pilgrims.
Several Stabbings Reported
The film also showed Iranians setting fire to police cars and motorcycles, while hundreds of others threw stones and waved sticks at security men.
According to the Saudi government statement, the Iranians had knives hidden in their clothing and stabbed several civilians and security men.
After the police were attacked, special security forces moved in to break up the march, and the demonstrators fled, trampling dozens of women and old men, the statement said.
The official Iranian news agency, reporting the attacks on the foreign embassies in Tehran, said more than 500 relatives of slain pilgrims were among those who took part in the demonstration at the Saudi Embassy. After the crowd forced its way into the building, photographs of the Saudi ruling family were set aflame and hurled into the streets, the agency said.
Kuwaiti Embassy Attacked
At the Kuwaiti Embassy, the Iranians said, the demonstrators found maps and other documents containing “top-secret military information,” and the broadcast suggested that this proved that the embassy was spying for Iraq.
Iran’s anti-Kuwaiti propaganda campaign, based on the the tiny emirate’s financial and logistical support for Iraq, has intensified since the U.S. Navy began providing escorts for Kuwaiti shipping in the Persian Gulf two weeks ago. Iran has also threatened to attack economic targets in Kuwait.
The clashes in Mecca were the most serious there since 130 people were killed during a two-week-long seizure of the Grand Mosque by Sunni Muslim extremists that ended in November, 1979.
Making the pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. As the custodians of Islam’s most sacred shrines, the Saudis go to great lengths to welcome Muslims from all over the world, and non-believers are barred from the city. There are an estimated 2.6 million pilgrims in Mecca this year.
Iran Charges Called ‘Baseless’
In Washington, meanwhile, the U.S. government rejected as “totally baseless” the Iranian charge that the United States instigated the violence in Mecca.
“Iran’s false charges are designed to inflame passions and escalate tensions in support of Iran’s political aims to destabilize the region,” said Sondra McCarty, a State Department spokeswoman.
Asked to comment on the attacks on diplomatic missions in Tehran, McCarty said: “We view with concern press reports that groups of Iranians have raided the Saudi Embassy, burned the Kuwaiti Embassy and demonstrated at the French Embassy. We are unaware of any casualties and have no further details. The Iranian government is responsible for protecting the lives and property of diplomatic missions in Tehran, and it must live up to its international obligations in this regard.”