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US citizen detained in Saudi Arabia during pilgrimage, family says

An aerial view shows the clock tower over the Grand mosque as Muslim pilgrims walk around the Kaaba, the black cube seen at center inside the grand mosque, during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, July 10, 2022 (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
An aerial view shows the clock tower over the Grand mosque as Muslim pilgrims walk around the Kaaba, the black cube seen at center inside the grand mosque, during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, July 10, 2022 (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

DUBAI — A US citizen has been detained in Saudi Arabia after getting into a dispute with security officials while performing the umrah pilgrimage, a lawyer for his family says.

Mohamad Salem was taken into custody on November 1 and has been transferred to a maximum-security facility typically used for high-profile political prisoners and suspected terrorists, Abdallah Moughni says by phone from the US state of Michigan, where Salem lives.

He is one of several Americans who have recently run afoul of Saudi authorities, amid heightened tensions between the two longtime partners over global oil supply.

Salem, a 63-year-old of Yemeni origin, traveled to Saudi Arabia with two of his sons to perform the umrah pilgrimage at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, says Moughni, who is also the family’s spokesman.

While in line, he got into a verbal altercation with security officials who separated him from his sons.

Later, two men approached him, saying they were from Libya and asking what happened.

“At this point, Mohamad was livid, he was furious. He just let it out. He said, ‘If it was not for Mecca and Medina, we would burn this country to the ground,'” says Moughni, who confirmed details of the incident by speaking to Salem’s sons.

The two men turned out to be undercover Saudi agents, and Salem was detained, Moughni says.

Saudi officials and the US embassy in Riyadh did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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