Saudi tries 14 over deadly Mecca crane collapse

AP , Thursday 11 Aug 2016

Fourteen people have gone on trial in Saudi Arabia over a crane collapse in Mecca that killed 111 pilgrims and injured hundreds more just days before the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage last year, local media reported Thursday.

State-linked newspapers said six Saudis, including a billionaire, as well as two Pakistanis, a Canadian, a Jordanian, a Palestinian, an Egyptian, an Emirati and a Filipino are on trial. The defendants' names were not made public.

The Okaz newspaper says the defendants are accused of negligence, damaging public property and ignoring safety guidelines. It appears all are employees of the Saudi Binladin Group, the construction giant that was operating the crane.

Amid unusually strong winds, the 1,350-ton crane collapsed onto the Grand Mosque that houses Islam's holiest site, the cube-shaped Kaaba, bringing down slabs of concrete on worshippers below. The tragedy on Sept. 11 was the first of two major incidents to mar last year's hajj. A stampede and crush of pilgrims killed more than 2,400 people on Sept. 24, according to an Associated Press count.

The Saudi Gazette reported that 170 employees of the Binladin Group had been questioned by investigators ahead of the court proceedings. Okaz said prosecutors decided not to file charges against 42 others who were under investigation, including 16 members of the Binladin family.

Dozens of cranes surround Mecca's Grand Mosque, part of a massive construction effort headed by the Binladin Group. The Binladin family has been close to Saudi Arabia's ruling family for decades and runs major building projects. Al-Qaida's late leader Osama bin Laden was a renegade son disowned by the family in the 1990s.

After the incident, King Salman partly blamed the construction giant, saying the crane's arm should not have been left up when it was not in use.

The king ordered 1 million riyals ($267,000) to be paid to the relatives of those killed, and the same amount to those permanently injured. Those with lesser injuries were to receive half that amount.

However, Nigerian and Pakistani officials say Saudi Arabia has yet to pay the promised compensation. Six Nigerians and 11 Pakistanis were among those killed in the crane collapse, according to Nigeria's Hajj Commission and Pakistan's Religious Affairs Ministry.

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