Binladin firm blamed in haj accident

Friday 18/09/2015
King won’t hesitate to hold any delin­quent accountable

LONDON - Authorities in Saudi Ara­bia sanctioned the Saudi Binladin Group, one of the region’s biggest con­struction companies, holding it partially responsible for the deadly crane accident at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

The government suspended the firm’s new contracts and banned its board of directors from travelling pending the results of an investiga­tion into the accident, which resulted in the deaths of 111 worshippers and injured hundreds on September 11th, about a week before the start of the annual haj pilgrimage.

Saudis, Iranians, Nigerians, Malay­sians, Indonesians and Indians were among the dead. Images on social media showed police and bystand­ers attending to numerous injured people lying in pools of blood on the mosque floor. Pictures on Saudi state television showed the crane’s metal boom smashed through what appeared to be the roof of the mosque.

According to a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud had reviewed the Accident Investigation Committee report that concluded there was an “absence of criminal suspicion” and that the main reason for the accident were strong winds coupled with the incor­rect positioning of the crane.

“The position of the crane was in violation of operating instructions prepared by the manufacturer,” SPA said, adding there had been no response to several letters from concerned authorities about that crane and other ones.

The statement said a travel ban had been imposed on all members of the board of directors of Binladin Group and others connected with the project until the completion of the investigation.

King Salman said the families of those killed and injured in the crane collapse would be compensated. According to the Saudi monarch’s directives, families of the deceased and those seriously injured would receive $266,000, while those with minor injuries would receive $133,000.

“We will continue to do everything we can to serve the guests of the holy mosques,” the Saudi king said on his official Twitter account. “And we won’t hesitate to hold any delin­quent accountable.”

The Binladin Group has yet to make a public statement addressing the investigation or the accident but an engineer for the group told Agence France-Presse that the crane had been installed in “an extremely professional way” with no technical issues related to it. “It was an act of God,” he said of the accident

The Binladin Group has worked on numerous high-profile projects within the kingdom, including the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, and the huge Al-Faisaliah tower in Riyadh and King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.

The firm has been working for four years on a multi-billion-dollar, 400,000-square-metre enlargement of the Grand Mosque to accommo­date increasing numbers of pilgrims.

Saudi Binladin Group belongs to the family of the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The family dis­owned the terrorist leader in 1994 and his Saudi citizenship was revoked.

The incident in Mecca was the worst accident in close to a decade surrounding the haj. In 2006, more than 360 pilgrims died in a stampede at the desert plain of Mina, near Mecca. A crush of pilgrims two years earlier left 244 dead. The haj-related tragedy with the highest death toll was in 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims died in a stampede in an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites in Mecca.