Revealed: Iranian plot to bomb Hajj in 1986

The new evidence suggests that Iran’s malign regional meddling goes back more than 30 years. (AN photo/File)
Updated 02 October 2018

Revealed: Iranian plot to bomb Hajj in 1986

  • The new evidence has been revealed in an interview on Iranian TV with Mullah Ahmed Montazeri
  • Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, one of the leaders of the 1979 revolution, disclosed the plot in a letter to Khomeini

JEDDAH: Damning new evidence has emerged of an Iranian plot to detonate bombs during the Hajj pilgrimage in 1986, using explosives planted in the baggage of innocent pilgrims before they flew to Saudi Arabia.

The pilgrims, about 100 elderly men and women from Iran, were unaware that their bags contained bombs. The explosives were detected, removed and made safe by Saudi authorities during the regular screening process, then returned to the visitors to continue their pilgrimage unhindered. 

The new evidence has been revealed in an interview on Iranian TV with Mullah Ahmed Montazeri, a leading cleric. He disclosed that the explosives were planted by Mehdi Hashemi, an Iranian radical and a senior figure in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), on the instructions of  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — at the time chairman of the High Council of Revolution Culture Affairs and supervisor of the IRGC, who became the country’s Supreme Leader in 1989. 

Hashemi had become head of the “liberation movements unit” of the IRGC in 1983, and “by order of Ali Khamenei, the shipment of explosives was packed into the bags of pilgrims in 1986,” Mullah Ahmed said.

He said the late Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, the Iranian theologian and one of the leaders of the 1979 revolution, had disclosed the plot in a letter to the first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He wrote: “The Revolutionary Guards made an unacceptable mistake during Hajj and used the bags of 100 Iranian pilgrims, including elderly men and women, without their knowledge. They lost the dignity of Iran and the Iranian revolution in the eyes of Saudi Arabia and during the Hajj season.”

The new evidence suggests that Iran’s malign regional meddling goes back more than 30 years, the analyst Mohammed Al-Sulami, head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies, told Arab News.

Al-Sulami said the practice at the time was for Iranian pilgrims to deliver their luggage to an Iranian government institution, which sealed the bags and and shipped them to Makkah or Madinah, where they were screened.

“Saudi investigations at the time undoubtedly showed that the elderly owners of the bags had no clue about the explosive charges, so they were allowed to perform Hajj without any complications” out of the Kingdom’s concern not to disrupt the Hajj season, he said

UN chief asks Russia, Turkey to ‘stabilize’ Syria’s embattled Idlib

Updated 4 min 18 sec ago

UN chief asks Russia, Turkey to ‘stabilize’ Syria’s embattled Idlib

  • There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. The solution must be political: UN

NEW YORK: UN chief Antonio Guterres called on Russia and Turkey on Tuesday to “stabilize the situation” in the Syrian province of Idlib, rocked by intense fighting that the UN body warned is creating a humanitarian disaster.

“I am deeply concerned about the escalation of the fighting in Idlib and the situation is especially dangerous given the involvement of an increased number of actors. Yet again civilians are paying a horrific price,” Guterres told reporters.

His comments came ahead of a UN Security Council session on Tuesday to discuss the situation.

The world is facing “a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes,” Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian chief, told the council.

Parts of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib — the last bastion of jihadist forces in Syria — are supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September. But it was never fully implemented as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, militant group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) extended its administrative control over the region. The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region in Syria’s northwest since late April.

“Over the last six weeks, the conduct of hostilities has resulted in more than 230 civilian deaths, including 69 women and 81 children. Hundreds more have been injured,” Lowcock said, adding that an estimated 330,000 have been forced to flee their homes and move toward Turkey since early last month.

“Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure need to stop and they need to stop immediately,” Lowcock said.

Several diplomats indicated that the aim of the council meeting was to “renew attention” on Idlib and maintain pressure on Russia and Syria to stop their attacks on civilians.

Guterres appealed to Russia and Turkey, as signatories of the September deal, to stabilize the situation “without delay.”

“There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. The solution must be political,” he said, stressing the need to respect human rights and international humanitarian law “even in the fight against terrorism.”

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia responded that “we never attack civilian installations,” and added that the September accord is being “fully implemented.” His Turkish counterpart disagreed.

“Unfortunately, cease-fire violations are still on the rise. Consequences of the attacks by the regime against civilians are dire,” said Ankara’s Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 14 pro-regime forces and 41 militants and opposition fighters were killed in clashes on Tuesday.

The fighting flared on the edge of Hama province when HTS launched a dawn attack on regime positions, the observatory said.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, explained to the council the contrasting priorities of Russia and Turkey.

HTS’s presence in the de-escalation area “is not tolerable” for Moscow, while for Ankara, “time is required to effectively isolate and address HTS’s most hard-line fighters,” she said.

Tuesday’s Council meeting occurred at the request of Belgium, Germany, the US and Kuwait.

In May, the council held several meetings on Syria and the situation in Idlib.

Syria’s war began in 2011 and has now claimed more than 370,000 lives. Several million more have been displaced.