Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Australian Muslims accused of attacking US Muslims in Saudi Arabia

An aerial view shows the Clock Tower and the Grand Mosque in Mecca. About two million pilgrims are performing this year's Hajj.

An aerial view shows the Clock Tower and the Grand Mosque in Mecca. About two million pilgrims are performing this year's Hajj. Photo: AFP

A group of Australian Muslims has allegedly mounted a sectarian attack on an American group during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The Americans, who are Shiites from Detroit, have reported they were assaulted and threatened by a group they later learned were Lebanese-Australian Sunni men in a campground in the city of Mina, where pilgrims are required to stay to fulfil their religious obligations.

The Detroit Free Press has reported that one of the members of the group was strangled until his face turned blue and that women in the group were threatened with rape, according to witnesses to the attack that they say took place last Wednesday.

Pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Photo: Reuters

According to the report the group was confronted by a large group of men they later learned to be Australians belonging to a Sunni group known as Salafis.

One of the group asked one of the Shiite men if he was Shiite, said Sayyid Mothafar al-Qazwini, a nephew of Sayyid Hassan al-Qazwini, who was leading the American group, the Detroit Free Press reported. "He responded 'yes.' He was immediately attacked by three men, one grabbing him in a choke hold, the others punching him in the face."

According to the report the leader of the Salafis then shouted: "Kill them all. Kill the Shiites."

But Australian Muslims who attended the Hajj took to Facebook to deny the claims, saying that the Shiite pilgrims from the US started the trouble. One Australian man has been identified and accused of being the attacker, however Fairfax Media has been unable to reach him for comment.

One Facebook post said ''this is nonsense...the incident happened in my camp...the [Shiites] came insulting the sahaba (the companions of the Prophet) ... the account is rubbish''.

''My tent was right by the tent of the [Shiite] guys who got beat up ... not (sic) it shouldn't have happened but the whole incident was instigated by them and noone said anything near what is being claimed here".

Hassan al-Qazwini leads the Islamic Centre of America in Dearborn, Michigan, the largest mosque in North America. An official from the centre declined to comment on the alleged attack until the imam returns later this week.

The US State Department told Fairfax: "We are concerned by reports that a group of US citizens was attacked ... at a campsite for Hajj pilgrims located outside of Mecca. We take these reports seriously and are committed to the protection of US citizens travelling and residing abroad.

"The Embassy and Consulate General have contacted the Hajj and Interior ministries, as well as members of the group who were reportedly attacked. Both ministries have confirmed that they are investigating."

After the initial attack some of the Salafis ran to the women's tents, telling them "if they do not leave in 15 minutes, they will rape them all'', Mr  Qazwini said, according to the Detroit Free Press report.

- with Natalie O'Brien

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