Officials have downplayed suggestions that there is any element of retaliation behind the deportations of hundreds of Iranian pilgrims upon their arrival in Saudi Arabia for the hajj this week.
Coming just ahead of the biggest event on the Islamic calendar and just after allegations that Iran was behind an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil, the timing has Iranian pilgrims crying foul, and observers noting the rocky history between the two countries when it comes to the hajj.
Reports from the Iranian media have confirmed that more than 520 pilgrims have been arrested and deported from Saudi Arabia this week.
An unidentified member of the initial group of 150 detained on October 31 told Iran’s Fars news agency that they were detained at Medina airport on the pretext that they had fake visas. “They are telling us that there is a problem with our visas, whereas our visas are genuine,” he told the agency. “They were issued by the Saudi Consulate in Mashhad and some of the officers themselves accept the fact that the visas are genuine.” He added that the pilgrims were told that “the majority of Iranians are Jewish or have Jewish ancestors and there is no reason for them to go on hajj pilgrimage.”