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Shia pilgrims attacked by Wahabbi thugs; group leader tells Islamic Insights what happened

Image DEARBORN – Eight Shia men from the U.S. and U.K. making pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia were insulted and viciously beaten in the holy city of Mecca by Wahabbi "moral police."  This case was widely broadcast, including by the BBC, the New York Times and the Guardian, and is quickly developing into a diplomatic nightmare. 

DEARBORN – Eight Shia men from the U.S. and U.K. making pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia were insulted and viciously beaten in the holy city of Mecca by Wahabbi "moral police."  This case was widely broadcast, including by the BBC, the New York Times and the Guardian, and is quickly developing into a diplomatic nightmare.{mxc}

Amir Taki, leader of a group of 35 American and British citizens who had gone for umrah, spoke to Islamic Insights about their harrowing ordeal.  It was a period during which Taki and seven of his companions say they were alternatively slapped, beaten with sticks, chair legs, belts, shoes and handheld radios.

The group had been praying near Hijr Ismael as is popular with many Shias visiting Mecca.  According to Taki, a Wahabbi from the moral police was camping himself near the Shias. 

The moral police is a volunteer force of individuals infamous for oftentimes violently upon enforcing their brand of religious purity.  The Shias were easily identifiable when praying because they keep their arms down as opposed to folding them, which is what many Sunnis do.   The Wahabbi was preaching that the Shias were infidels.

"The Wahabbi was insulting a couple near where we were but who were not with our group," said Taki, a U.K. citizen.  "Sayed Mohammed Jawad Qazwini, the ‘alim in our group, went to him and asked him, ‘can you please calm down, you’re very loud’.  Sayed Qazwini was very polite in the way he said this.

"The Wahabbi called his colleagues for backup to come and take away the sayed away.  He left the Kaaba and we who were nearby saw it all happen.  I personally went up and asked the police who were there what was going on, since I was in charge of the group.  They told us to mind our own business."

Taki and a few companions shadowed Qazwini to a moral police compound.  Taki said that at this point Qazwini refused to enter, stating he wanted to deal with an official government force, not volunteers.

"Sayed Qazwini was basically taken to a police compound back near the Grand Mosque.  We tried to follow him in but we weren’t allowed.  A police officer said that the sayed would be in safe hands.  After about two or three minutes we started to hear screams.

"Pushing the officer aside, I opened a door.  Sayed had a red mark on his forehead and he was shouting out that he had been hit.  We all went inside to take the sayed–we have an obligation to protect all the members of the group.  At that moment, the guy who was hitting the sayed lost control and shouted, ‘arrest all these people’.

"All of us were being hit on the face and on the head.  I was trying to free the individuals from the shackles of the police but was hit on the head.  One guy picked up a chair and was about to smash a brother on the floor but was pulled back.  Four guards punched out one of the brothers.  One brother was shackled, put on the floor and beat. 

"I finally managed to bring a number of the brothers together on one side of the room to push out against the police.

"One guy came forward and said that we came from the land of infidels.  We said we’re British and Americans which seemed to infuriate them more.  ‘You think America and Britain are going to help you now?’ he asked.  His name was Fawaz, I think.  He cursed and slapped us on the face telling us we’d come from the land of infidels.

"I cannot justify why these kids were slapped in the face who had just come to see the Kaaba for the first time.  This was going through my head," said Taki.

 

The escape

Taki went on: "We had a small cell inside this place.  We then were moved to a big police station outside the holy shrine.  It’s about a mile and half walk and we were forced to go barefoot.  We were put in chairs and given two options:  Make a truce and the whole thing is forgotten or go to court.  Somebody was advising us to drop the case because we could be executed.  We refused."

Although the young men had been searched for cell phones, one had managed to smuggle one in.  "As soon as we went to the main police compound, we made phone calls to our families and the embassies and home and said what had happened.  The American Ambassador called all of us and Sayed Qazwini told him what was going on," explained Taki.

"After a few hours of interrogation, we were taken to the hospital.  They wouldn’t give us medical scans, they wouldn’t check us up properly.  Some guy from the compound who had fought with us came in and asked for a bandage, which he was given that promptly.  It was funny that the guards were being given a medical report while we were being ignored; they wanted it to look like we had started all this.

"Eventually the Saudis began to apologize and high level officials were coming in saying that how we were being treated was unacceptable and saying that the problem had to be ended."

The London, UK-based Independent reported that the British Foreign Office is expected to raise the matter with the Saudi government although the authorities in the country say they have already started an investigation. 

"We were denied the most basic human rights. We were given no water or food or medical treatment.  Our own medicine, for serious conditions like asthma, was denied to us.  Our mobile phones were taken away.  Luckily they missed one and that’s what saved us.  It was disgraceful conduct and we demand an apology from the Saudi government," Taki was quoted as saying by the Independent.

The Saudi-owned newspaper, Asharq al-Awsat, quoted Ghazi Al Usaimi, deputy police chief at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, on Thursday as denying any truth to reports about the incident.  Taki didn’t seem so sure anyone would be punished for the anti-Shia rhetoric and assault his group had to endure, all too common practices in the Saudi kingdom. 

"A couple days after this all happened, we saw the guy who had been making the original comments against Shias back in the same place preaching by the side of the Kaaba," said Taki bitterly.

 

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