3 million Muslims gather in Mecca
Some 3 million Muslims from all over the world gathered Friday in Mecca, on the eve of the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage. Male pilgrims and women, circled the sacred Kaaba stone structure seven times inside the Grand Mosque, which Muslims face during their five daily prayers.
According to AFP, Saudi Arabia has deployed some 100,000 security personnel to keep order during the five-day pilgrimage, which starts Saturday. Roadblocks have sprung up on all roads leading to Mecca, and police check for hajj permits from Saudi nationals and for passports from pilgrims who arrived from abroad.
Security is high also because the hajj comes just over a week after terror attacks in Mumbai, India's financial capital, in which suspected Islamists killed 171 and injured more than 300 others in assaults on upscale hotels, a restaurant and other sites across the city.
Saudi authorities have said they have no indication of any threats this year. There have been scores of arrests ahead of hajj, but they have targeted people allegedly trying to defraud pilgrims or breaking other regulations connected to the hajj. Among them were two Egyptians who allegedly operated an illegal hajj tour company.
The hajj culminates Sunday, when the pilgrims gather on Mount Arafat, 20 kilometers from Mecca. At Arafat, pilgrims offer prayers from noon to shortly after nightfall. The hajj will continue for several more days.