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The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie

The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie
In November 1991, two alleged Libyan intelligence officers, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, were indicted for the bombing. (Getty Images)
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Updated 05 May 2020

The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie

The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie

The truth about the deadliest terror attack in UK history may never be known

Summary

On Dec. 21, 1988 Pan-Am Flight 103, en route from Frankfurt, via London, to New York, crashed on the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing all 259 passengers and crew. Eleven residents in a single street in Lockerbie also died when part of the wreckage fell on the town.

Crash investigators quickly found traces of high explosives, triggering a forensic investigation that the aircraft had been downed by a bomb concealed inside a cassette player in a suitcase in the aircraft’s hold.

In November 1991, two alleged Libyan intelligence officers, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, were indicted for the bombing. For nine years Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi refused to allow their extradition, but under pressure from international sanctions finally agreed to allow them to face trial for murder under Scots law in a special court in The Netherlands.

Fhimah was found not guilty but Al-Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment. Diagnosed with prostate cancer, he was released on compassionate grounds after serving a little over eight years of his sentence. He returned to a hero’s welcome in Libya, where he died almost three years later.

JEDDAH: The king leads the Saudi delegation at a GCC summit in Manama, there is a new government in Israel, and there is a crisis in Sudan; that Arab News front page could have been published almost any day this year.

Except the Saudi king was King Fahd, the Israeli prime minister was Yitzhak Shamir, and another report on the page tells you this not 2020, but Dec. 23, 1988. Two nights before, Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to Detroit via London and New York had been blown up by a terrorist bomb as it crossed the border between England and Scotland.

With a death toll of 270 — all 243 passengers and 16 crew, and 11 victims on the ground in Lockerbie, where the aircraft smashed into two residential streets at 800kph— it remains the deadliest terror attack in UK history.

Few events resonate all the way from a small Scottish border town to the White House. This was one such event. Lockerbie, with its 4,000 souls, joined that list of places in the UK and elsewhere — Aberfan, Munich, Srebrenica, My Lai — forever associated in the public consciousness with cruel and senseless loss of life. 

Scotland, my country, and Glasgow, my city, are not soft places, nor are the journalists they produce noted for emotional incontinence. But I saw tough, cynical, diamond-hard reporters return from Lockerbie numbed into glazed-eyed silence by the enormity of what they saw there, and full of respect and admiration for the quiet dignity and fortitude with which its townspeople bore their losses. 

Most of the plane’s passengers were American, and their relatives flew from the US to identify bodies and possessions. The people of Lockerbie temporarily buried their own grief to provide accommodation, food, comfort and solace to the bereaved. Bonds were forged that remain to this day.




A page from the Arab News archive showing the news on Dec. 23, 1988.

When a terrorist attack was confirmed, the perpetrator identified by Washington was inevitable. The US and the regime of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya had been in a state of undeclared war for years, and US airstrikes in April 1986, far from cowing Qaddafi, appeared only to have incensed him.

US and UK investigators believe Libyan agents in Malta concealed a Semtex bomb inside a radio-cassette player and sent it in a suitcase to Frankfurt, where it was loaded aboard Pan Am Flight 103 and the fate of 270 people was sealed.

Key Dates

  • 1

    The US Federal Aviation Authority issues a bulletin warning of an anonymous tip that a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt will be blown up in the next two weeks.

  • 2

    Pan Am Flight 103 is destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie.

  • 3

    Alleged Libyan intelligence officers Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah are indicted for murder by US and Scottish authorities, but Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi refuses to allow their extradition for trial.

    Timeline Image Nov. 1991

  • 4

    After a nine-year standoff, Qaddafi agrees to allow Al-Megrahi and Fhimah to be tried under Scottish law in the Netherlands.

  • 5

    Al-Megrahi is jailed for life. Fhimah is found not guilty.

  • 6

    Al-Megrahi loses an appeal against his conviction.

    Timeline Image March 14, 2002

  • 7

    Qaddafi accepts Libya’s responsibility for the bombing and agrees to pay compensation to each of the victims’ families.

  • 8

    Al-Megrahi, with terminal prostate cancer diagnosed, is released on compassionate grounds and returns to Libya.

  • 9

    Libyan civil war breaks out.

  • 10

    Libya’s former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdul Jalil claims Qaddafi’s regime was implicated in the bombing.

  • 11

    Qaddafi is killed by rebel militia while trying to flee after the fall of Tripoli.

  • 12

    Al-Megrahi dies, aged 60.

With some narratives, paradoxically, it can make sense to work backwards — from when Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and former head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, died at his home in Tripoli on May 20, 2012, at the age of 60.

More than 11 years earlier, in January 2001, three Scottish judges sitting at a special court in a former US air base in the Netherlands had sentenced Al-Megrahi to life imprisonment on 270 counts of murder for the Lockerbie bombing. He served more than eight years in two prisons in Scotland before the Scottish government released him on compassionate grounds when doctors said he had terminal cancer, and he returned to Libya in August 2009. Given three months to live, he lasted for nearly three years.

Al-Megrahi was, and remains, the only person to be convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103; with his death, therefore, case closed? Well, no.

The repercussions began soon after the disaster, and continue to this day. Pan Am, its security operations exposed as criminally useless, was bankrupt after a year and out of business after two. UN sanctions against Qaddafi and Libya reinforced their pariah status, and the country remains a failed state embroiled in civil conflict. For the rest of us, airline and airport security have intensified on an apparently endless upward trajectory, and we can at least be grateful that an unaccompanied suitcase with a bomb inside can never again travel from Malta through two airports to the skies over Scotland.

“The Town Hall, decorated with festival lights and now hastily converted into a mortuary, was besieged by distraught relatives.”

From a Reuters story in Arab News, Dec. 23, 1988

Perhaps most significantly, however, Lockerbie may have marked the beginning of a collapse in public trust in what our governments tell us. Authorities in the US and the UK insist that Al-Megrahi was guilty, and that he acted alone or with a single accomplice. Few believe that.

Major world events — the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the moon landings, the 9/11 attacks on America — attract conspiracy theorists like iron to a magnet, and Lockerbie is no exception. It was Iran; it was the Palestinians; it was Mossad; it was the Stasi; it was apartheid South Africa.

What makes Lockerbie different is that one of the “theories” is almost certainly fact — which one, is anyone’s guess. One man more entitled that most to guess is Jim Swire, the softly spoken but determined English country doctor whose daughter Flora, 23, perished on board the plane. Swire, now in his eighties, has devoted his life to finding the truth about Lockerbie. He met and questioned Al-Megrahi. He met and questioned Qaddafi. He has been a thorn in the side of UK and US authorities for more than 30 years, and he believes to this day that the case against Al-Megrahi was a travesty and a tissue of lies, to cover up some ghastly truth that may never be known.

US President George H. W. Bush set up an aviation security commission in September 1989 to report on the plane’s sabotage, and British relatives of the victims met members of the commission at the US Embassy in London in February the following year. A member of Bush’s staff told one of the relatives: “Your government and ours know exactly what happened, but they are never going to tell.”

And that, surely, for the victims of Pan Am Flight 103, for their still grieving families, and for the people of Lockerbie, was the final insult.

  • Ross Anderson, associate editor at Arab News, was on duty as a senior editor at Today newspaper in London on the night of the Lockerbie disaster


Saudis ready to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr with health precautions in mind

Saudis ready to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr with health precautions in mind
Prior to the pandemic, Eid celebrations were marked by family gatherings where people used to enjoy traditional cuisines. However, now people have limited their visits and avoid large gatherings due to health concerns. (File photo)
Updated 51 min 21 sec ago

Saudis ready to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr with health precautions in mind

Saudis ready to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr with health precautions in mind
  • COVID-19 pandemic may have muted celebrations but fails to dampen people’s spirit

RIYADH: As many Muslims around the world eagerly await Eid Al-Fitr to celebrate with family and loved ones, Saudis have shared their annual routines on the festive occasion, which for many, are the best part of the whole celebration.

“I wait eagerly for Eid, and I always try a month before to go to the public and popular markets with my sons and daughters before the crowds to prepare for the occasion,” Husain Al-Anazi, a human resources operations supervisor, told Arab News. He buys whatever his family needs such as clothes, supplies and sweets.
On the Eid day, Al-Anazi goes to the mosque, where he performs the Eid prayer, and then returns home “I return to the parents, brothers and children. I greet my mother, sisters and children. Then I go to greet the elderly in their homes, especially my uncles, aunts and some of the elderly relatives,” he added.
After completing the morning tour, he returns home at noon to take a nap until the afternoon to catch up on sleep, since he is used to staying up late during Ramadan. He then goes to the majlis (sitting room for guests) in the afternoon and prepares tea and coffee for visitors.
In the evening, Al-Anazi goes to the meeting place of his relatives, where a special dinner for the family is held in either the house of the eldest relative or a separate rented location. Once the dinner wraps up, he goes to his friends on a break to greet them and play cards.
In the following days, he travels with friends to any place they decide to visit.

My favorite food during Eid is mansaf, a traditional Arab dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt, and served with rice.

Asmhan Al-Fuhaiqi

As for Bandar Al-Ghayeb, a security worker at the Saudi Electricity Co., he rarely spends the whole Eid period with his family and relatives, as he works on a shift basis at the company.
He instead visits friends in the neighborhood, who prepare Eid meals (mostly grilled foods). “We don’t eat too much. We eat in a symbolic way, as if we are tasting food.”
Al-Ghayeb said that he also visits some relatives and other friends on the same day after taking a nap. Although he is usually physically exhausted, he feels psychologically comfortable, as it is a day where he is able to meet many people, including friends who he has not seen for years.
Al-Ghayeb is also keen to preserve the habit of “eidiya” every year, where children are gifted money by older members of the family.
The best moments of Eid for Saudi housewife Asmhan Al-Fuhaiqi are the morning of the first day, especially when she starts to put on new clothes.
“Performing Eid prayers has a special feeling. Then we meet together as family members at my father’s house, where we start distributing sweets to the guests,” she told Arab News.
Al-Fuhaiqi added the spirit of Eid shines through when groups begin to light fireworks in celebration.
“During Eid, I would be busy buying supplies, including clothes and accessories, and since I live in the town of Tayma, I cannot get everything I need, so I go with my family to the city of Tabuk (110 km away), which is the closest city to us” she said.

I go to greet the elderly in their homes, especially my uncles, aunts and some of the elderly relatives.

Husain Al-Anazi

She added that one of the most difficult things to buy during Eid is clothing, as she has to ensure that the size fits so that she does not go all the way back to Tabuk.
On the night before Eid, she makes sweets and puts them in the reception room before dawn, and perfumes the house with incense and oud.
In the past, Al-Fuhaiqi was keen to go to the prayer hall next to the city, which feels “beautifully different,” however, the situation changed after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, and she instead visits the nearby mosque.
The family then begins to receive guests in their home, distributing gifts to the children and supervising the fireworks. “Although it is risky, I feel that fireworks give a wonderful atmosphere for Eid, so I make sure that I am the one who lights the fireworks myself, not the children.”

I will be very happy during Eid, because we visit many people, and many also visit us in a short period of time.
Ruaa Rashid

She said that her favorite food during Eid is mansaf, a traditional Arab dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt, and served with rice or bulgur.
Saudi child Ruaa Radhi told Arab News that her mother bought her a dress and beautiful shoes a few days ago for Eid, and bought enough fireworks from the market for her and her brothers.
“On the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, we will meet with my grandmother at her house in the presence of my aunts who live in other cities, where we will have dinner together, which is a cooked lamb that my mother and aunts cook,” she said.
Radhi’s maternal uncles usually gift her toys and sweets for Eid every year. “They usually give us light footballs and balloons. Indeed, I will be very happy during Eid, because we visit many people, and many also visit us in a short period of time.”
Nayef Al-Moaini, a Saudi engineer at Ma’aden, said that, for him, the celebration of Eid starts the night before, when preparing the house is one of the most important parts of the annual celebration.
“Celebration of Eid Al-Fitr often includes holding banquets for several days to celebrate the visitors, including our relatives coming from outside the city,” he added.
The second day of Eid is a fixed day for Al-Moaini’s family feast, which includes his uncles, their children and his neighbors.


G7 should invest $10tr to stoke economic recovery

G7 should invest $10tr to stoke economic recovery
Updated 38 min 44 sec ago

G7 should invest $10tr to stoke economic recovery

G7 should invest $10tr to stoke economic recovery
  • Summit will be chaired by Britain’s Johnson in Cornwall, southern England, on June 11-13

LONDON: G7 countries should invest $10 trillion to stoke an investment-driven recovery that puts COVID-19 vaccines in arms and triggers a sweeping energy transformation to slow climate change, according to a report requested by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

US President Joe Biden is expected to join other Group of Seven leaders at a G7 summit chaired by Britain’s Johnson in Cornwall, southern England, on June 11-13.

Founded in 1975 as a forum for the West’s richest nations to discuss crises such as the OPEC oil embargo, the G7 will discuss what it perceives as the biggest threats: China, Russia, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

Nicholas Stern, professor of economics at the London School of Economics, said in a report for Johnson that the G7 was a crucial opportunity for the West’s richest economies to make a real change to the global economy.

“The transition to a zero-emissions and climate-resilient world provides the greatest economic, business and commercial opportunity of our time,” Stern said in the report.

“At the heart of the proposed vision for the economic response to the pandemic is a coordinated global program of investment for recovery, reconstruction and transformation that can boost all forms of capital — physical, human, natural and social,” Stern said.

G7 countries, he said, should set a collective goal to raise annual investment by 2 percent of GDP above pre-pandemic levels for this decade and beyond and improve the quality of investment — equal to about $1 trillion per year in additional investment over the next decade.

The G7 leaders should ensure a timely global roll-out of vaccines by immediately closing the $20 billion funding cap of COVAX, a global program to provide vaccines mainly for poor countries.

After Johnson called for countries to do more than produce “hot air” rhetoric on climate, the report said the G7 should come up with credible ways to meet Biden’s climate goals.

The G7 should commit to eliminating all fossil-fuel subsidies no later than 2025, lead a sweeping energy transition, end overseas support for fossil-fuel investments and consider a minimum corporate profit tax of 21 percent.


Copper hits record high on higher demand hopes

Copper hits record high on higher demand hopes
Updated 44 min 26 sec ago

Copper hits record high on higher demand hopes

Copper hits record high on higher demand hopes
  • Bullish investors bet that demand for copper will increase further as the world economy recovers from COVID-19 slumps and as investments into green energy sectors ramp up

HANOI: Copper prices touched record highs in both London and Shanghai markets on Monday on hopes for improved demand amid tightening supply.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange rose to an all-time high of $10,747.50 a ton earlier in the session before easing to $10,694 a ton, still up 2.7 percent.

The most-traded June copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange closed up 4.8 percent to 77,720 yuan ($12,094.62) a ton, after scaling a peak of 78,270 yuan earlier. Sentiment has been boosted following record high LME prices since 2011 hit on Friday.

Bullish investors bet that demand for copper will increase further as the world economy recovers from COVID-19 slumps and as investments into green energy sectors ramp up, while prices were also supported by tight supply in the concentrate market.

“Prices continue to rise as the world is talking about the global recovery and the need for metals,” said Malcolm Freeman, a director at UK broker Kingdom Futures, adding that the LME contract “looks set to attempt $11,000 on a technical basis.”

However, he noted that industrial players are not buying at this price level.

ShFE aluminum surpassed 20,000 yuan a ton, rising as much as 3.8 percent to 20,445 yuan a ton, its highest since January 2010, while ShFE zinc hit its highest since March 2008 of 23,065 yuan a ton. LME aluminum rose 2 percent to $2,590.50 a ton and zinc advanced 1 percent to $3,045 a ton.

A group of 15 key copper smelters in China have agreed to cut their purchases of raw material copper concentrate in 2021 by 8.8 percent year-on-year, state-backed research house Antaike said.


First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part
Updated 34 min 50 sec ago

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part
  • Fitness enthusiast Shireen Khan says “SAS Who Dares Wins” placed her in some uncomfortable situations
  • The entrepreneur of Pakistani origin said her parents did not want her to take part, and share room and toilets with men

LONDON: The first Muslim woman to take part in a popular British TV show, in which contestants are set challenges by former Special Forces members, has described both her pride in taking part but the “difficult situations” she faced linked to her faith and upbringing.
Shireen Khan, an aesthetics and tech entrepreneur from London, was chosen among thousands as one of the recruits in the action-packed series “SAS Who Dares Wins.”
The sixth season, which started airing on Sunday on Channel 4, involves an elite team of ex-Special Forces soldiers putting 21 men and women through a series of grueling physical and mental exercises designed to mirror selection for the Special Air Services (SAS).
“A lot of people thought I wasn’t going to get on the show or even pass their fitness tests,” Khan told Arab News of the entry process. “At one point, I actually thought myself I was’t going to pass, because they were so difficult.”
Even to enter the show, contestants must be able to do 44 push-ups in a minute-and-a-half, and run 1.9 kilometers in nine minutes.
Khan, 28, received the call to say she made it as one of the final recruits, but her parents were not very happy, which posed a “real conflict” for her.
“My mum was like, you are a Muslim girl and how are you planning to go onto the show, when you are going to be sleeping next to men, and going to the toilet, and all of these things, if you go on the show, I am practically going to disown you,” Khan told Arab News.
For Khan, this was “a once in a lifetime opportunity,” although it “was a very difficult situation.”
“There are Muslim women who want to go into the SAS or army, because that is their passion and the big question is, is that something they can do in the correct way of Islam?”
Since then, her father has come around due to her achievement and knowing her values, but her mother has not, however at the time of the interview, they still had not seen her contribution to the show.
On the show, the men and women share open toilets and sleep in army camp beds in the same room. They also get changed together.

The sixth season of “SAS Who Dares Wins” started airing on Sunday on UK Channel 4. (Channel 4)

“I got very constipated, because mentally that is not something I am used to, whereas a lot of the other recruits, they have been in scouts and been wilderness camping since they were young, they have been exposed to these type of things, so they did not find it as a culture shock,” Khan said. “Whereas with me, I have been brought up in a very strict Muslim household in some way, so I physically couldn’t go to the toilet.”
At one point, they returned to camp and were washed off in freezing cold water to clear the mud and filth, and were told to undress and get into their dry kit.
“It meant that everyone had to strip, and when it came to me, I just said no,” Khan said. Instead, she wore her dry kit over her wet clothes, prompting warnings from the show’s staff that she risked hypothermia.
“It was a very uncomfortable situation and what you see on TV and in reality is absolutely nothing what they put you through, they literally just put a few snippets, but you are constantly going through that trauma behind the cameras.”
Another problem she faced was that the show did not not provide halal food.
Women were only allowed to apply for the real SAS since 2018.
On the TV show, Khan is not the first Muslim to take part. In the second season, Iraqi-born Mohammed Abdul Razak, who reached the final stage, used to pray five times a day on the show.
It was filmed in a remote part of Scotland, where the British Special Forces do most of their challenging training.
Despite her best efforts, Khan was the first to be eliminated during the first task, where they had to race 2.2 kilometers up a mountain carrying 18 kilos on their backs, as she along with another contestant, would have been a liability in a real war zone, the judges said.
Contestants often have a story of hardship, which has given them the strength to turn their lives around.
“Since I was young, I was bullied at school, I was not one of the best looking girls, I had a mustache growing up, being from a Pakistani background I was extremely hairy and that was one of the targets for bullies to pick on me and beat me up in the playground,” Khan said.
She suffered from self-esteem issues, which made her binge eat and become overweight. She also went through a really tough time with her parents’ divorce and growing up without much money.
She changed her life to become as physically fit as possible and went from “rags to riches,” training as a nurse before setting up a a chain of beauty clinics across London.
“I have come a long way and...it took a lot for me to do that, but I am a pure example of when you put your mind to something it is possible.”

Shireen Khan, an aesthetics and tech entrepreneur from London, was chosen among thousands as one of the recruits in the action-packed series “SAS Who Dares Wins.” (Supplied)

Khan joined the show because wanted to experience the real SAS and army, “who are actually going through this day to day just to save us, and for us to be sleeping peacefully at night. Coming off the show, my admiration, I’ve just got no words to describe what they get exposed to every day, it’s a real honor.”
Khan does not think she is capable of a career in the SAS because she discovered on the show she has physical, mental limitations. Weighing 51kg, Khan is 157cm, and said she was physically unable to compete with the men in the same tasks.
“It has definitely changed and shaped the way I look at life in general and I am exposing myself to new challenges,” she said.
Khan said she now plans to focus on her business and charitable work “and give back to the world in a different way.”
Khan runs a charity called Carrott Kids, which helped rebuild an earthquake-damaged school for 100 children in a remote Pakistan village. The new school building opened in March.


Eid shoppers urged to be wary of virus risk in Saudi Arabia

Eid shoppers urged to be wary of virus risk in Saudi Arabia
People are seen in the Mall of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 46 min 38 sec ago

Eid shoppers urged to be wary of virus risk in Saudi Arabia

Eid shoppers urged to be wary of virus risk in Saudi Arabia
  • A Saudi ministry of Health spokesman noted that the fluctuating case numbers are a positive sign, but reiterated that the country is not in the clear just yet

JEDDAH: As the daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia continues to hover between 950 and 1,100, authorities are calling on residents to remain careful and vigilant as they prepare for Eid Al-Fitr.
With the holiday only a few days away, shoppers are urged to remain on high alert and choose online shopping rather than visiting packed malls. Warnings have been issued that store closures are imminent if commercial establishments fail to abide by the required health and safety precautions and ensure social distancing is maintained.
It comes after more than two weeks of rising numbers of infections during Ramadan to more than 1,000 a day, which authorities said is the result of people failing to follow rules on social distancing and gatherings.
On Monday, health authorities in the Kingdom recorded 986 new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), meaning 427,370 people in the country have contracted the disease.
The highest number of new infections was in the Riyadh region with 339, followed by the Makkah region with 283, and the Eastern Province with 131. Only two regions reported single-digit increases: The Northern Borders, with eight, and Jouf, with five.
An additional 1,076 people have recovered, according to health authorities, raising the total number of recoveries to 410,816. This means the recovery rate in the Kingdom has increased slightly to 96.1 percent.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Saudi Arabia recorded 986 new infections on Monday.

• 1,076 more people have recovered from the disease.

• The death toll rises to 7,085 with 13 new fatalities.

The number of active cases has been decreasing lately as recoveries increase. A Ministry of Health spokesman noted that the fluctuating case numbers are a positive sign, but reiterated that the country is not in the clear just yet. “The fluctuation could be an indicator that the cases are stabilizing,” he said on Sunday.
According to the figures announced on Monday, there are currently 9,469 active cases. Of these, 341 patients are in critical condition. Thirteen additional deaths related to COVID-19 were reported, raising the total to 7,085.
More than 10.6 million doses of COVID vaccines have been administered since vaccinations began in December. Nearly 31 percent of the Kingdom’s 34.8 million population have received at least one dose.

A total of 70,822 PCR tests for COVID-19 were carried out in the past 24 hours, raising the total number of tests in the Kingdom to nearly 17.6 million.
Saudi health clinics set up by the Ministry of Health as testing hubs or treatment centers have dealt with hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country since the start of the pandemic.