Jamarat: Crowd management at the heart of Hajj

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Security officers are posted everywhere to ensure smooth flow of pilgrim movement. (AN photo by Essam Al-Ghalib)
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Every camp has a worker dedicated to them. They make sure the pilgrims’ schedule is kept. (Reuters)
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Every camp has a worker dedicated to them. They make sure the pilgrims’ schedule is kept. (AN photo by Essam Al-Ghalib)
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Every camp has a worker dedicated to them. They make sure the pilgrims’ schedule is kept. (AN photo by Essam Al-Ghalib)
Updated 12 August 2019
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Jamarat: Crowd management at the heart of Hajj

  • Fatal stampedes have marred "stoning of the devil" ritual during previous pilgrimages
  • Plan in place these days to ensure the smooth flow of 300,000 pilgrims per hour

One of the biggest showpieces of Hajj infrastructure is Jamarat Al-Aqaba, constructed at a cost exceeding SR 4.2 billion ($1.12 billion) and capable of handling a flow of 300,000 pilgrims per hour.
The 950-meter long and 80-meter wide structure is designed to support 12 floors and accommodate five million pilgrims in the future if needed. It is at this site that pilgrims throw seven pebbles at a wall in a ritual that symbolizes the stoning of the devil.
According to Islamic tradition, Prophet Ibrahim was on his way to sacrifice his son Ishmael at Allah’s request when he was tempted by the devil on three occasions. Each time the prophet threw stones at the devil to drive him away.

RITUAL FACTS

  • Jamarat refers to three stone pillars in the city of Mina. The pillars are Al-Jamarah Al-Sughra; Al-Jamarah Al-Wusta; and Al-Jamarah Al-Kubra or Jamarat Al-Aqaba.
  • According to Islamic tradition, each time the devil tried to divert Prophet Ibrahim’s attention while en route to make a sacrifice, the Prophet would throw seven stones at the devil.
  • The stoning is carried out from the 10th to the 13th day of the Islamic month of Dul Hijjah.
  • On the 10th day of Dul Hijjah, Eid, only Jamarat Al-Aqaba is pelted with stones. During the subsequent days, all three are to be pelted with stones.
  • The stone throwing must be completed within the allotted timeframe or a penalty will be due.

Fatal stampedes have marred this ritual during Hajj several times in the past. This year the Saudi Ministry of Hajj, in collaboration with other government bodies, has put in place an elaborate plan to prevent the conditions that could lead to a stampede.
To ensure that all goes to plan, crowd-control personnel have been enlisted from the police and Saudi Civil Defense.
“Every year we develop a program for crowd-management and control,” Amro Maddah, advisor to the Minister of Hajj, said.




Pilgrims performing the al-Aqaba (stoning of the devil) ritual at the Jamarat Bridge outside of Makkah on Aug. 11, 2019. (AN photo by Essam AL-Ghalib)


“Each camp for each country has a number and a specific crowd-management worker. These people are all following the operational plan of the ministry."
Maddah said each crowd-management worker has a specific plan based on the schedule. “The pilgrims will throw their stones and go back to their designated camps," he told Arab News.
"To make sure that the schedule is properly followed, we use crowd-control cameras and smart IDs.”
“Every camp has a worker dedicated to them. That person is responsible for making sure that the pilgrims follow the schedules provided to them.
“If the schedule is not met and the person did not do his job, the office that he works for will end up getting a note from the ministry and then a huge penalty.
“We have more than 8,200 group leaders that are responsible for the movement of pilgrims,” Maddah said. “They are from Saudi Arabia, they are trained for this job and are highly reliable.”




Pilgrims performing the al-Aqaba (stoning of the devil) ritual at the Jamarat Bridge outside of Makkah on Aug. 11, 2019. (AN photo by Essam AL-Ghalib)

In order to not repeat the previous incidents and to maintain a healthy environment, Maddah said that this year’s crowds will be better controlled.
The Jamarat Bridge is vital for streamlined crowd management. The bridge is constructed around three vast pillars with multiple entrance and exit points at different levels.
The facility includes all the services needed to aid pilgrims, including an underground tunnel that separates vehicles from pedestrians; 11 entrances; 12 exits; a helipad for emergencies; and a sophisticated cooling system.
The Kingdom’s leadership was keen to implement the project to ensure pilgrims’ safety and security, as well as eliminate risks at the stoning area and avoid problems caused by overcrowding.
The Jamarat area project had four broad objectives: reorganizing the surrounding area; facilitating access to the bridge by splitting it into different directions; organizing the areas around the bridge to avoid crowds and congestion; and tackling the problem of people sleeping around the bridge.
The area also features underground tunnels for vehicles and evacuation exits through six emergency towers connected to the ground floor, tunnels and airfields.
The design of Jamarat and its elevation both improves movement and increases bridge capacity, helping to reduce the risk of stampedes and overcrowding.




Pilgrims performing the al-Aqaba (stoning of the devil) ritual at the Jamarat Bridge outside of Makkah on Aug. 11, 2019. (AN photo by Essam AL-Ghalib)

During the 1436 Hajj season, the west square of Jamarat was expanded by about 40,000 square meters from the north to form an exit toward Makkah.
The dimensions shifted, with the length extending to a kilometer and the width exceeding 70 meters.
Streets around the Jamarat have been reorganized in line with the expansion project, including Hajj Street, Prince Majed Street and the Grand Mosque Street.
The expansion has also meant that vital roads have improved connections, so there is a smoother flow of pilgrims exiting the facility.
The Jamarat Bridge has undergone a number of development and expansion works since it was established in 1974.
In 1982, the bridge was expanded in width and length from the north. There was a second expansion in 1987, increasing the width to 80 meters and the length to 520 meters.
The boarding ramp was extended to 40 meters in width and 300 meters in length. Five new service bridges were added, as well as signage, lighting and ventilation. Its total area reached 57,600 square meters.
The Jamarat Bridge underwent redevelopment in 1995, and again 10 years later.
These included modifications in the bridge structure and modifications to the shape of the basins from a circular to oval shape.
Other changes involving creating new emergency exits, installing signage with information and warnings in case of overcrowding, and connecting screens and signage directly to pilgrims’ camps.

(With Saudi Press Agency)

 


US training helps Saudi pilots avoid civilian casualties

Updated 26 August 2019
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US training helps Saudi pilots avoid civilian casualties

  • Saudi-led coalition has made mistakes in Yemen war but has apologized for them
  • Saudi pilots have been working with their US counterparts to improve targeting

CHICAGO: Saudi pilots in the fight to destroy terrorist cells in Yemen have been receiving high-level training by the US military to reduce civilian casualties, Arab News has learned.

The war against the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen began after they toppled the UN-backed government.

The Saudi-led coalition has made mistakes but has apologized for them. Just over a year ago, for example, the Houthis fired missiles at Jazan and other civilian communities in southwest Saudi Arabia. The Saudis responded with airstrikes; one of the missiles accidentally struck a school bus, killing 30 children.

Since then, Saudi pilots have been working with their US counterparts to improve targeting. Pentagon officials say the training has resulted in a significant reduction in civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict.

“It’s a difficult challenge … but we believe, and the Saudis agree, that everything needs to be done to protect civilians,” said a senior Pentagon official, who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing training.

There has been a marked decrease in civilian casualties ... the Saudis deserve credit for the improvements.

Pentagon official

He added that civilians are often unintended victims of conflicts and efforts to eliminate terrorist threats, especially when militants operate in areas heavily populated by civilians.

The US has been working in different ways to help the Saudis improve some procedures and encourage expedited, transparent assessment of alleged civilian casualties.

“Training has helped them reduce non-combatant casualties. We believe there has been a marked decrease in the number of civilian casualties,” said the Pentagon official.

“The Saudis have been very good partners. They deserve the credit for the improvements and changes.”

Salman Ansari, founder of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), commended the US and Saudi militaries for the training.

“As a reliable ally and trusted friend, it’s highly commendable that the US is helping train Saudi pilots in precision and avoiding casualties,” he said.

“This is a true example of positive engagement, and demonstrates the deeply rooted US support for Saudi Arabia,” he added.

“It’s true that the Saudi-led coalition has made mistakes in the past, but these mistakes have been accounted for and investigated,” Ansari said.


“The training of our pilots … shows that we’re serious about avoiding casualties. The same logic can’t be applied to the Houthis, who deliberately attack civilian targets in Saudi Arabia regularly and brag about it.”

 


TIMELINE

Feb. 2012: Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh hands over power to Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Iran begins to arm Houthi militias.
Sept. 2014: The Houthis launch a nationwide assault, targeting civilians and Yemeni government institutions.
April 2015: Houthis driving Iranian tanks kill 12 civilians in an attack in Aden.
Sept. 2015: The Houthis launch Iranian-supplied Tochka ballistic missiles, killing 60 coalition soldiers.
Dec. 2017: The militias target and kill Saleh near his hometown.
Dec. 19, 2017: The Houthis fire missiles at Riyadh.
June 2019: The militias strike Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport, killing at least one civilian and wound nearly 50.
July 2019: The Houthis target Abha airport, injuring nine civilians.
July 2019: The militias ambush Saudi soldiers in Jazan, killing four.
Aug. 2019: The Houthis attack a military graduation ceremony in Aden, killing 36 people, including a commander.


Without disclosing how many Saudis are involved in the training or where it is taking place, the Pentagon official said the program focuses on aspects of military responses to Houthi provocations.

“We’re working with the Saudis on making onsite decisions as to whether strikes should continue,” he added.

“Everything starts with intelligence, doing a better job of gathering intelligence on the battlefield and developing strike targets.”

The official said making positive identification of intended targets is key to protecting civilians.

He added that operations need to ensure that there is a “strong command and control link,” and that forces are not sent “looking for targets” but have a “clear and deliberate chain of command” for the strikes.

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He said it is important for pilots to be able to make decisions themselves during operations, and to be encouraged to provide onsite information that might contradict intelligence used to select targets.

“We want the pilots to feel empowered to not have to strike a target if they feel there’s something wrong or inaccurate,” said the official. “We teach them how important they are to a successful campaign.”

He added that the Saudi pilots are enthusiastic in embracing the strategies and avoiding civilian casualties.

“No one wants to have an accident … on their conscience,” he said. “The pilots are already well trained in flying their aircraft … but we hold seminars to talk to them about the specifics of each of the areas of training.”

Ansari said: “We must always remember the causes of this war, which was forced upon the Saudi-led coalition.”

He added: “It was a war caused by the overthrow of a legitimate UN-backed government at the hands of an Iran-backed militia that prides itself on its ‘Death to America’ slogan, and attacked the US Navy three times during the time of the Obama administration.”

In a recent op-ed for Arab News, Michael Pregent, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former intelligence officer, called the Saudi response to the Houthi attacks a “necessary campaign” that is “failing in the public relations arena.”

He wrote that “if it ultimately fails, then Iran will have another Hezbollah in the region — and that’s the goal.”

Pregent added: “The Saudis are going out of their way to show their targeting process is aligned with the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and that they are rushing humanitarian aid in, only for it to be stopped by Iran’s Quds Force and the Tehran-backed Houthis. Few give the Saudis credit for trying to do this right.”