Did Syria try to blow up last year's Hajj pilgrimage?

Published January 27th, 2013 - 08:20 GMT
More than three million people gathered for prayers on the day of the foiled plot.
More than three million people gathered for prayers on the day of the foiled plot.

Syria had planned to explode a bomb during the Haj (pilgrimage) season last year, a former military officer has said.

Imad Al Haraki, a Syrian officer who worked for the Syrian consulate in the Red Sea resort of Jeddah, told the London-based Al Hayat daily that he had been selected by the Syrian government to carry out the act of terrorism on the ninth day of Dhul Hijja when around three million people gathered at the Arafat Mount, the peak of the pilgrimage rituals.

The former deputy General Consul, Shawqi Shamat, conveyed the mission orders to him, he said.

“I was vacationing in Thailand with my family when I received a phone call from the deputy Consul telling men that I was to carry out an operation in the sacred city of Makkah, but without specifying the location” he told the daily. “I was told that I would return home to Syria following the bombing and lead a lavish life.”

However, Al Haraki chose on October 23 to alert the Saudi authorities about the plot and three diplomats in the consulate were deported two days later, according to the article published by Al Hayat on Saturday. Haj started on October 24 and the Arafat Mount gathering was on October 25.

The former officer said that he also told the Saudis about the existence of a Hezbullah cell in Jeddah and about its network of more than 20 people who were in direct contact with Shamat and the consulate.

Al Haraki said that he received information from Syria on the day the three diplomats were deported that he had been sentenced to death, prompting him to ask the Saudi authorities for protection.

In October, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported that Riyadh deported three Syrian diplomats of the Jeddah-based Syrian Consulate General.

The official agency quoted a Saudi foreign ministry spokesman as saying that the behaviours of the three deported were incompatible with their consular duties and assignments. No further details were given.

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