Sun, Aug 12, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Pilgrims claim to have been detained by Saudi police


Eight British and American Shiite Muslims who say they were detained and tortured by religious police during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia are calling for compensation and a full inquiry.

Group members, some of Iraqi descent and aged between 16 and 26, said on Friday that they were visiting the Kaaba, the cube-shaped shrine in the holy city of Mecca that pilgrims circle, when Saudi police interrupted them and called them infidels.

The police noticed the group was praying in the Shiite manner, which differs slightly from the Sunni style, the accusers said. Saudi Arabia's official strict Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam considers Shiites heretics.

Many in Saudi Arabia are particularly suspicious of Iraq's Shiites, believing they discriminate against the country's Sunni minority and are too closely linked to Shiite-majority Iran.

One of the eight is Amir Taqi, the 23-year-old son of Ridha Jawad Taqi, a senior Iraqi lawmaker in the country's biggest Shiite political party.

"We were handcuffed and savagely beaten with sticks, chairs, belts, shoes and police communication devices," Amir Taqi told a London news conference. He said the men were denied food, water and access to toilets.

The seven Britons and one American produced photos of injuries they said police inflicted on them. Images included bruising and spots of blood on one group member's head and cuts and bleeding from another's arm.

The group did not provoke the police, Taqi said.

A senior Saudi security official denied the claim.

"What the media said is baseless; no assaults took place in the shrine" Colonel Ghazi al-Usaymi said in a statement issued on Thursday.

On Tuesday, a Saudi official said there had been a "dispute" between an Iraqi and a Saudi that had nothing to do with religion or nationality.

Despite Saudi suspicions of Shiites, an attack on pilgrims would be unusual. Hundreds of thousands of Shiites visit the holy city each year without suffering physical harassment.

In a statement to reporters, the group said it was detained for 14 hours. Aside from requesting compensation from Saudi authorities, the group wants guarantees about the safety of pilgrims.

Sayed Mohammed Jawad al-Qazwini, a 26-year-old American also of Iraqi origin said that police taunted the group.

"You'll be killed and thrown to the dogs, and no one will ever know where you are," Jawad quoted police as telling them after they were detained.

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