Millions of people in the Middle East were shocked after witnessing a rare security incident during a live broadcast of the sermon at Mecca’s Great Mosque on Friday. Mecca is considered the holiest place in the Islamic world, and in recent years security has been greatly beefed up amid the continued influx of millions of pilgrims weekly, but also amid increasing threats and incidents.
As a senior imam was giving the Friday sermon, a man stormed his pulpit appearing to wield a weapon – which some commentators described as a knife (though this remains unclear). Saudi police and security immediately tackled him and dragged him away, as video of the incident shows…
— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) May 22, 2021
The man was detained after a brief scuffle, and official Saudi media accounts confirmed that an apparent attack was thwarted.
“An incident took place earlier today when a man in Ihram [pilgrim’s clothes] attempted to enter the minbar [imam’s platform for sermon] of Masjid Al Haram, Makkah while Sheikh Baleelah was delivering the Khutbah [sermon], the man was apprehended by Public Security Officials immediately and has been taken into custody,” one Saudi news source described.
— Haramain Sharifain (@hsharifain) May 22, 2021
This follows a string of minor security breaches…
In April, a knife-wielding man chanting slogans of terrorist groups was arrested from the premises of the Grand Mosque.
According to the Saudi Press Agency, the man was taken into custody on March 30 from the first floor of the mosque following the occurrence.
And late last year a man was arrested after crashing his vehicle into the Grand Mosque’s outer perimeter security gate.
It’s possible the newest incident was related to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. There’s widespread anger both within the kingdom and the Arab world more broadly that Saudi Arabia is perceived as on a path toward ‘normalization’ of ties with Israel, following the UAE signing the Abraham Accords sponsored by the Trump administration last year.