As millions of pilgrims begin the five-day Hajj, or pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites, Saudi authorities say they have prepared for every eventuality. The annual pilgrimage’s international reputation has been somewhat tarnished in recent years with a series of disasters leading to the deaths of hundreds, mainly in stampedes. All able-bodied Muslims try to make the Hajj at least once in a lifetime. The event includes symbolic re-enactments of the lives of Abraham and Hagar, pilgrimages to key places in Arabia, collecting pebbles for stoning the devil and culminates with walking seven times around Mecca’s Al-Ka’ba stone. This year there is an additional cause for concern for Saudi security officials, with fears that terrorists may use the festival as a way to enter the country. More than 100 people were arrested earlier in the year when discovered taking advantage of the daily ‘Umra or pilgrimage traffic in and out of the country, the country’s Interior Ministry said at the start of December. Saudi police forces confiscated weapons, foreign currency, computers, communication devices and documents found in the possession of the suspects. A ministry official said those arrested included people active in recruiting people and financing terror operations.
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