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At least 107 killed as crane crashes into Mecca's Grand Mosque

At least 107 pilgrims were killed on Friday night and 238 injured when a construction crane crashed through the roof of the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca.

The crane appeared to have snapped and smashed through the ceiling on the eastern side of the largest mosque in the world following high winds and heavy rain.

The Masjid al-Haram, or Grand Mosque, was particularly busy at the time, as Muslims from around the world converge on the site ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage at the end of the month.

Pictures and videos posted on social media showed scores of dead bodies on the mosque's marble floor and courtyard, with dazed and bloodied pilgrims being treated among the rubble.

Unverifiable mobile phone footage appeared to show the moment the crane fell, with a loud crash followed by panic and shouting.

Abdel Aziz Naqoor, who said he works at the mosque, said he saw the crane fall after being hit by the storm.

"If it wasn't for the Al-Tawaf bridge the injuries and deaths would have been worse," he said, referring to a covered walkway that surrounds the holy Kaaba and broke the crane's fall.

Online activists created a hashtag on Twitter urging Mecca residents to donate blood at hospitals in the area.

No details were immediately available on the nationalities of the victims. Iran's official IRNA news agency, quoting the head of the Hajj Organisation, said that 15 Iranian pilgrims were among those injured.

The cause of the crane collapse was not confirmed, and official information was not forthcoming from the secretive kingdom.

The Saudi civil defence authority said on Twitter that emergency teams were sent to the scene after a "crane fell at the Grand Mosque."

The authority said an hour before the disaster that Mecca was "witnessing medium to heavy rains".

There were also reports of winds of more than 25mph that were blamed for toppling the crane. There have been strong sand storms in the region over the past week.

A photograph circulated on social media showed a crane next to the mosque being struck by lightening, but it was again not possible to confirm whether the image was genuine.

The mosque expansion was being carried out by the Saudi Binladin Group, the massive industrial conglomerate which was founded by the father of Osama bin Laden, Mohammed.

With close links to the Saudi royal family, the group wields considerable influence in Saudi Arabia and the £14 billion mosque scheme was one of a number of prestige projects in which it was involved.

Osama bin Laden was estranged from the family. Only last month the sister and stepmother of Osama bin Laden were among those killed when an Embraer Phenom 300, owned by the group’s aviation arm, crashed at Blackbushe airfield in Hampshire as it tried to land following a flight from Milan-Malpensa airport.

There are several other construction projects under way close to the Grand Mosque, which is spread across an 88 acre site. The crane was one of a number dotted around the site.

A major expansion of the Grand Mosque began last year in a bid to handle the huge numbers of visitors.

Last year more than two million people performed Hajj, while in 2012 the figure was more than three million.

A huge hotel complex is being built around a mile south of the Grand Mosque. The hotel, with 45 storeys and 10,000 bedrooms – including five floors for the sole use of the Saudi royal family – will be the largest in the world when it opens next year.

The governor of Mecca region, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, has ordered an investigation into the incident.

The pilgrimage, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, this year takes place between September 21-26.

The pilgrimage has been prone to disasters in the past, mainly from stampedes as pilgrims rushed to complete rituals and return home.

Up to 300 pilgrims died in such a stampede in 2006 and in 2004 a stampede killed more than 200. The worst stampede, in 1990, left 1,400 people dead.

In 2006, a concrete multi-story hotel collapsed, killing 76 people.

Saudi authorities have since gone to great lengths – and spent billions of pounds – to expand the main Hajj sites and improve Mecca's transportation system. 
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Source: The Telegraph