A “mentally ill” Saudi national tried to set himself on fire beside the Kaaba inside Mecca’s Grand Mosque, the Islam’s holiest site, but his attempt was foiled by alert pilgrims and security forces, police said on Tuesday.
The man wearing Umrah garb, identified as a Saudi national in his 40s, was dousing himself in gasoline when he was caught, police spokesman Major Sameh al-Salmi said.
“He was held before he went on with his dramatic self-immolation act and his behaviour indicates that he is mentally ill. All the necessary measures will be taken,” Saudi news site Sabq quoted the spokesman as saying.
A 23-second video, posted on social media, shows dozens of pilgrims who were surrounding the assailant while he was pouring gasoline on himself beside the Kaaba last evening. Police and pilgrims overpowered the man and escorted him away before he could light the petrol.
Citing security forces at the Grand Mosque, the Gulf News said the man was “trying to kill himself and not attempting to set the sacred cubic structure ablaze as reported.”
Earlier media reports claimed that the man was spilling gasoline on the kiswah, the black and gold silk curtain that covers the Kaaba - the cubical structure at the center of the sacred mosque.
One eyewitness told Sabq that the man had been uttering “takfiri” slogans, referring to extremist Islamist groups like Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Kaaba is central for all Muslims who are required to look its direction when they perform their prayers five times a day, and during the Haj or Umrah (minor haj), pilgrims walk counterclockwise around it seven times.
Muslims believe the Kaaba was originally built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ismael who also placed the sacred black stone in one of its corners.
In November 1979, the Grand Mosque was seized by over 400 fundamentalists who seized pilgrims as hostages. Special forces fought fierce gun battles with the militants to retake the mosque compound.