JEDDAH: A Saudi security officer has been hailed a “hero” after stepping in to stop a baton-wielding man attempting to attack an imam at the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
The attack at one of Saudi Arabia’s holiest sites was halted amid dramatic scenes caught on live television on Friday.
Police investigating the incident later revealed that the attacker claimed to be the “awaiting Mahdi (Messiah).”
Security officer Mohammed Al-Zahrani intercepted the man and wrestled him to the ground as he charged at the imam.
The attacker was removed from the mosque with the help of other officers.
Al-Zahrani has been hailed a “hero” and thanked by Saudis for his efforts across social media.
Dressed in an ihram, the traditional white cloth worn by pilgrims visiting the Grand Mosque, the attacker was seen on live television charging at the minbar pulpit as Sheikh Bandar Baleelah, one of the Grand Mosque imams, delivered the Friday sermon.
He was held by security officials following Al-Zahrani’s actions before being placed in custody, a Makkah police spokesman said.
Sheikh Baleelah continued his sermon despite the unfolding drama. Preliminary investigations by police revealed that the perpetrator was a 40-year-old Saudi national, according to the newspaper Al-Watan.
Last March, a man wielding a knife was filmed walking between worshippers chanting extremist slogans. He was hit with a chair and stopped by pilgrims and security officers.
Throughout history, a number of people have claimed to be “Islam’s redeemer” in dangerous incidents.
The most high-profile event occurred in 1979, when Juhayman Al-Otaibi and his brother-in-law Mohammed Al-Qahtani, who claimed to be the Mahdi, took hundreds of pilgrims hostage at the Grand Mosque, causing a week-long siege.
A full-scale assault was launched to break the siege, resulting in the death of the so-called Messiah and hundreds of his followers. The leader of the pack, Juhayman, was arrested and later executed for his crimes.