Huge security operation for annual Haj

 MECCA - Saudi Arabia says it will set up its biggest security operation for this year's Haj pilgrimage, when more than two million Muslims congregate for rites that end in tragedy for some every year.

At least 2.5 million pilgrims are expected to arrive in the Muslim holy city of Mecca from all over the world by Sunday when the five-day ritual begins.

Deadly stampedes, attacks by the Islamist militant group al Qaeda or the possibility that a dangerous virus could pass through the gathered crowds like wildfire are three eventualities Saudi security forces could be preparing for.

"Security forces should expect anything of any size to happen. We are not saying that we have information [of militant attacks] but ... we should always expect the worst and we are ready for that," Interior Minister Prince Nayef said.

"The number [of security forces] has increased ... to around 60,000 men," he said, before a parade of civil and military defence forces during a tour of the holy sites.

Last year the Government said it had 50,000 men in the Mecca area to combat potential militants, demonstrators and disorderly behaviour that could lead to overcrowding.

The authorities want to thwart possible attacks by al Qaeda, which is trying through violence to end the rule of the United States-allied Saudi royal family.

- REUTERS

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