British, US pilgrims demand inquiry into Saudi torture claims

Eight Shi'ite pilgrims say Saudi police detained and beat them severely while on trip to Mecca.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
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Eight British and American Shi'ite Muslims who said they were arrested and tortured by religious police as they prayed during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia called Friday for a full inquiry into their ordeal. The group, some of Iraqi descent and aged between 16 and 26, told a London news conference they had been detained and beaten by police during their visit to holy city of Mecca. One member of the group is Amir Taqi, the 23-year-old son of Ridha Jawad Taqi, a senior Iraqi lawmaker in the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, the country's biggest Shi'ite political party. Taqi said he and the group had suffered an unprovoked and aggressive attack from Saudi police. Saudi Arabia's embassy in London was not immediately available to comment on the allegations. Though Saudi Arabia's official strict Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam considers Shi'ites heretics, an attack on Shi'ite pilgrims would be unusual. Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ites visit the holy city each year without suffering physical harassment. The men said they were praying at Kaaba, Islam's holiest site, when Saudi police interrupted them, calling them infidels. "We were handcuffed and savagely beaten with sticks, chairs, belts, shoes and police communication devices," Taqi told the news conference. He said the men were denied food, water and access to toilet facilities. In a statement to reporters, the group said they were detained for 14 hours from Sunday to Monday afternoon. They are calling for compensation from Saudi authorities and guarantees on the safety of pilgrims. The group also produced six photographs illustrating injuries they said police had inflicted on them. Sayed Mohammed Jawad Al-Qazwini, a 26-year-old American, also of Iraqi origin, told The Associated Press that police taunted the group as cowards when they refused to respond to provocation. "You'll be killed and thrown to the dogs, and no one will ever know where you are," Jawad quoted police as telling the group once they had been detained. But Jawad said he did not believe the men had been targeted because of their Iraqi origins. Many in Saudi Arabia are deeply suspicious of Iraq's Shi'ites, believing they discriminate against Iraq's Sunni minority and are too closely linked to Shi'ite Iran.