Iran & Saudi Arabia: New Tensions on Hajj

Tensions began escalating between Iran and Saudi Arabia after a stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia, killed and injured pilgrims completing a hajj ritual. Saudi officials reported that 769 people had been killed, but Iranian officials estimate the death toll could be as high as 4,700 – including some 464 Iranians. The hajj is the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, which all Muslims are expected to complete once in their lifetime. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Saudi Arabia for the stampede, calling on the government to “accept its heavy responsibility in this bitter event.” President Hassan Rouhani, who had been in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, cut his trip short and returned to Tehran on September 28. He accused the Saudi government of a "lack of proper management" and set up a task force to investigate the incident.

The stampede was the second major incident causing tensions between the two governments over the hajj, but Tehran had been trying to better relations with kingdom since Rouhani’s election in 2013. In 1987, Iranian pilgrims clashed with Saudi security forces in Mecca. More than 400 people were killed, including 275 Iranians. In response, Iranian protesters attacked the Saudi and Kuwaiti embassies in Tehran.
The following are excerpted remarks from Iranian officials on the Mina stampede.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Today's catastrophic event in Mina, during which a large number of God's guests and believers who had migrated towards God from different countries lost their lives, caused great sorrow in the world of Islam and turned their Eid into mourning. In our dear country too, tens of families, who were eagerly waiting for their dear ones to return from their hajj pilgrimage, are now mourning for them.
With a sorrow-stricken heart and sympathy towards the bereaved, I offer my condolences on the occasion of this grievous event - to the immaculate soul of the Great Messenger (God's greetings be upon him and his household), to the holy presence of God's Wali, the Imam of the Age (may our souls be sacrificed for him) who is the principle mourner of this tragedy, to all the families of the deceased and to all mourners throughout the world of Islam particularly in dear Iran.
I ask God the Forgiving, the Merciful, and the Rewarding to bestow His special mercy on these honorable guests of His and to help, with His kindness, the injured to recover as soon as possible.
I would like to point out the following matters:
1. My representatives and the Hajj Organization should continue their strenuous effort - as they did throughout today - to identify the deceased, to cure the injured, to return them back to the country, and to provide the public with information in this regard as quickly as possible. And all people who can help them in this effort should do so.
2. They should also extend their help to pilgrims from other countries in whatever ways they can and they should fulfill their brotherly and Islamic obligation towards them.
3. The Saudi government should accept its heavy responsibility in this bitter event and it should meet its obligations based on the principles of truth and fairness. The mismanagement and improper measures that caused this catastrophe should not be overlooked.
4. By Allah's favor, those who lost their lives in this event are among those mentioned in this enlightened Quranic ayah: "He who forsakes his home in the cause of Allah, finds in the earth many a refuge, wide and spacious. Should he die as a refugee from home for Allah and His Messenger, His reward becomes due and sure with Allah" [The Holy Quran, 3: 100].
This is a great comfort for the families of the deceased. They rushed towards the Worshipped after doing tawaf, endeavoring in the way of God and spending the blessed hours of Arafat and Mash'ar and while performing hajj rituals. For this reason, they will benefit from the One's grace and mercy.
With my condolences once again to the mourners, I declare three days of national mourning in the country.
—Sept. 24, 2015, in a statement

“Ignorance of the time turned our Festive Day into grief by Mina deadly tragedy. May God accept these sacrifices and devotions from Muslim nations. Using advanced militray equipment, they bombard Yemeni people, yet they fail to act when humanity demands and show their courage only when facing the defenseless people."

“Saudi officials fail to do their duties and act against their responsibilities and show slyness in some cases; if Iran wants to react, Saudi Arabia’s conditions will not be good. In case of reaction, our response will be firm and severe."

“Saudi Arabia evades its duties in helping transfer of corpses of Hajj pilgrims; however, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been self-restraint observing principles of Islamic ethics and the spirit of fraternity in the Islamic world; they should understand though that disrespect of tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims in Mecca and Medina would precipitate Iran’s ‘severe and strong’ reaction."

—Sept. 30, 2015, in a speech to army cadets



President Hassan Rouhani



The grieving news of the catastrophe of deaths and injuries of over 200 Iranian pilgrims during the Hajj pilgrimage caused a deep grief among me and my accompanying delegation. The passing of our pilgrims in their way to become closer to the Almighty Allah is the clear evidence of the verse of Quran saying “He who leaves his home to get closer to Allah,…he shall reward him”. Without a doubt, the declaration of three days of national mourning [by the Supreme Leader] clearly indicates the depth of the catastrophe and that is the least expressed sympathy of the government and the Iranian nation towards the bereaved families.
I express my deepest condolences over the heart-breaking Mina incident to Imam Mahdi (AS), the grieving families, the Supreme Leader, and the noble Iranian nation. I ask my First Vice-President Mr Jahangiri to form a special committee of addressing the incident and gather the required facilities immediately, and take the following actions and frequently report to the Iranian nation and me:
1.  To dispatch rescue teams and send airplanes to Saudi Arabia if necessary, handling the affairs of the pilgrims and the injured, and transferring the bodies of the dead back to the country and prioritise these measures. It is of chief importance that dear pilgrims feel that they can continue their rituals in peace and security, and return home based on their schedule.
2.  To call on the Governor-Generals to visit the families of the injured and the dead in order to convey my condolences, and deliver the necessary assistance and adequate facilities in dealing with the issue as soon as possible.
3.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the ambassador to Saudi Arabia are required to probe into the incident and take all necessary actions to the rights of the dead and the injured. I also demand that the Saudi government take the responsibility of the mishap and carry out its Islamic and legal duties.
Expressing my condolences to the families of the victims, I ask for mercy from Allah for the dead, swift recovery for the injured, and accepted hajj for the pilgrims accompanied with a safe return to their homes.
—Sept. 25, 2015, in a statement
“We demand Saudi Arabia’s cooperation with Iranian Hajj Headquarters and the Supreme Leader’s permanent delegation to Mecca and Medina in order to deliver medical help to Iranian pilgrims.”
“I have tasked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to contact the Saudi authorities and take necessary actions.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, in remarks to the press
"Saudi Arabia should act upon its legal and international responsibilities vis a vis the foreign nationals and Hajj pilgrims and the aspects of the incident should be clarified precisely.”
"The Saudi media display animations instead of showing the footages of reality (of what happened in Mina), and this is an insult to the Islamic societies.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, according to the press
"If we can change the dynamics and establish good relations between us and Saudi Arabia it will certainly benefit everyone involved. These days, though, it is important to keep in mind that our conditions have become much tougher, because a number of our pilgrims to Hajj were killed in Mina. Thus far 170 Iranian pilgrims have been killed. Dear lives, precious lives, lost.
"This lack of proper management, responsible management, of the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia is extremely sad. We do not know all of the underlying causes, the root causes, so we do not want to pass judgement. But the Saudi Arabian government has made itself quite occupied and concerned elsewhere – Syria, Yemen, the region as whole – and it seems to have forgotten Mecca itself, how to manage it. It seems to have forgotten Mina. It seems to have forgotten the millions of pilgrims that every year go to their country."
—Sept. 27, 2015, in a meeting with American think tanks, academics, and NGOs
Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani
"The weak management of the Saudi government and lack of capability of the Saudi Hajj officials have certainly been the cause of the tragic incident in Mina.”
"The change in Saudi Arabia's security preferences and seeing its security in the war on the Yemeni people and helping the Al Khalifa in suppressing the Bahraini people have played important roles in the emergence of this tragedy.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press
Senior Advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati
"What has happened is suspicious because some high-ranking technical, scientific and political figures of the Islamic Republic of Iran have gone missing or been martyred in the incident and the Saudi government should account for the event.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, according to the press

Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian
Abdollahian also called "Riyadh's negligence inexcusable" and announced a committee has been established to look into the incident.
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press

Head of the Judiciary Sadeq Amoli Larijani
“The Saudi government could not easily free itself from the heavy burden and responsibility of the Mina incident; the event is extremely terrible in terms of the scope of the fatalities, and all Islamic countries should devise effective measures to prevent the repetition of similar issues in the future. Contrary to the ongoing trend where Hajj pilgrims received improved services and better facilities, in recent years, the problems stymied the process, with insecurities rising considerably.”
“Saudis’ attribution of the event to heavenly preordained affairs is mere an attempt to bring other strange and ludicrous causes into the event; the real issue is their sheer incompetence in meeting the challenges on Hajj pilgrims’ security, while the heavenly providence has been on the place; Islamic countries would not easily close the case, and the bitter memory of the event will linger on for years to come.”
“The event indicates that Saudi officials are among the most irresponsible and heedless officials ever to rule a country; they should compensate for all aspects of the disaster; the general expectation from a ‘strong government’ is to transparently address all facets of the event, and bring the perpetrators and contributors to justice, along with providing apologies to the multitudes of pilgrims’ families.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, in a meeting with judiciary officials
Chairman of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
“The officials in the Saudi government in charge of maintaining order in this huge ritual are responsible for the incident and should be accountable to the Muslims.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press
Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri 
"Given the usurper Zionist regime's infiltration and influence on the al-Saud, there is a growing possibility that the crane crash incident at the Grand Mosque (in the holy city of Mecca) and the death of thousands of people in Mina were the result of deliberate crime.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, according to the press
"In the very first hours after the Mina catastrophe, the country’s armed forces expressed their readiness to provide any (necessary) assistance to the relevant bodies and are fully prepared at the moment, too."
“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces are ready to perform any mission in this regard."
—Sept. 30, 2015, according to the press
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli
"As Iran's interior minister I ask you to order the concerned Saudi Hajj officials to do their utmost cooperation with the Iranian relief workers stationed in Mecca and Mina to organize the affairs of the Iranian pilgrims.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, in a letter to Saudi Interior Minister Mohammad Bin Nayef
Head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization Saeed Ohadi
"This year's hajj ceremony was disorganized as the Saudi government had hired young and inexperienced people.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press

Head of Parliament’s National Security Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi
“It’s not the first time that the Saudi government has shown its incompetence during the hajj.”
“Two tragic incidents have taken place in a short time, the Saudi government is not capable of managing hajj pilgrimage.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press

Supreme Leader’s Representative on Hajj Affairs Seyed-Ali Ghaziaskar
“This incident is unprecedented in the history of hajj. Saudi officials do not let our medical team and doctors to reach the affected areas and hospitals to help.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press
Government Spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht

"The Saudi government has nothing to say and that's why the foreign minister of this country goes into hiding and does not speak with our foreign minister, so we are forced to use other means at our disposal to solve this problem."
—Sept. 30, 2015, according to the press
Minister of Intelligence Seyyed Mohammad Alavi
"The negligence of Al Saud rulers caused this incident and the unwise conduct that they displayed after the Mina tragedy gave this tragedy the appearance of a crime and Muslim world will not forgive them for their behavior."
—Sept. 30, 2015, according to the press


Judiciary Spokesperson Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei

"The Saudi rulers cannot shrug off responsibility for the Mina tragedy and they should be accountable for what happened in Mina last Thursday."

"All material and emotional losses of the Mina incident should be compensated for."
—Sept. 30, 2015, in a speech to Basij forces