A senior Iranian official has slammed Saudi Arabia’s “irresponsible” handling of the annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, where hundreds of Muslims were killed last week in a stampede, and speculated that the Saudi royal family would disappear within two decades.
“More bitter than the Mina incident was the Saudi king’s irresponsible, inhumane and non-Islamic behaviors,” General Yahya Rahim Safavi said Sunday, according to the semi-state run Fars News Agency.
Safavi, military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that in light of Riyadh’s inability to administer the annual Muslim pilgrimage, he expected the current Saudi government to rescind control over the holiest site in Islam.
“We hope that God willing, Mecca and Medina will be managed by an Islamic government in less than 20 years from now when there won’t be any al-Saud,” Safavi said.
At least 769 people were killed, including 150 Iranians, in the stampede in Mina on the final day of the hajj pilgrimage. At least 934 people were injured.
Iranian leaders have been fiercely critical of Saudi authorities’ handling of safety at the hajj and questioned whether Riyadh was fit to continue organizing the annual pilgrimage.
On Sunday, Khamenei demanded Saudi Arabia “accept their responsibility” for the deadly stampede and apologize for the tragedy caused by Riyadh’s “mismanagement.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also began his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Monday by lashing out at Saudi Arabia for the stampede.
Tehran has asserted in recent days that the death toll in the tragedy was over 1,300, while Fars claims that 2,000 people were killed in the crush.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are chief rivals in the greater Middle East. That conflict is on display in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bombing Shiite rebels there Iran has backed.
Thousands protested in the streets of Tehran on Friday as a senior cleric angrily demanded Saudi Arabia hand over control of the annual pilgrimage to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest body of Muslim nations.
Saudi authorities are investigating what sparked last week’s disaster in Mina, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Mecca. Initial reports suggested two crowds coming from opposing directions converged on an intersection, which began pushing and shoving until a stampede began.
The tragedy was preceded by a deadly accident in Mecca some two weeks earlier, when 107 people were killed when a crane crashed through the roof of the city’s Grand Mosque during a heavy storm. At least eight Iranians were among the dead.