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Conspiracy Theories Fly In Iran Over Deadly Hajj Incident

Iranian protestors demonstrate on September 25 in Tehran against Saudi Arabia after Iranians pilgrims were killed in a stampede at the annual hajj.
Iranian protestors demonstrate on September 25 in Tehran against Saudi Arabia after Iranians pilgrims were killed in a stampede at the annual hajj.

Tehran has said that negligence and mismanagement by Saudi organizers caused last week's hajj stampede that left at least 464 Iranians dead.

The Iranian losses were the largest incurred by any nationality in the deadly crush that took place in the Mina neighborhood of Mecca on September 24, the deadliest tragedy to befall the annual Muslim pilgrimage in 25 years.

And according to the head of Iran's paramilitary Basij force, there is one main culprit -- the United States. "The Americans are behind the Mina disaster. From their propaganda, we can understand that they're aiming at turning away people from the principle of hajj," Basij commander Mohammad Reza Naghdi was quoted as saying by Iranian media on September 29.

Naghdi, who has a record of blaming the United States for many of the world's problems, added that Washington wanted "to put hajj under question" and "give Islam an ugly face."

His claim is one of several conspiracy theories related to the tragedy that have been pushed by Iranian hard-line media and officials as Saudi Arabia investigates the deadly incident.

Iran says that it and other affected countries should have a role in the investigation. Saudi Foreign Minister Abdel al-Jubeir has called on Tehran to wait for the results of the probe and avoid playing politics with a tragedy that has heightened tensions between the regional rivals.

The Saudi minister's request has done little to stem the flow of byzantine purported schemes that Iranian officials have posited in connection with the tragedy.

The deputy chief of staff of Iranian Brigadier General Massud Jazayeri suggested that the September 24 stampede and the deadly Mecca crane collapse on September 11 may have been deliberately orchestrated by Israel and the Saudi government.

"Given the oppressor Zionist regime's infiltration and influence on the Al-Saud, there is a growing possibility that the two incidents -- the crane-crash incident at the Grand Mosque [in Mecca] and the death of thousands of people in Mina -- were deliberate," Jazayeri told the semiofficial Fars news agency on September 28.

Jazayeri said it's the duty of Muslim states to undertake fact-finding missions "to decode these crimes by Al-Saud."

Speaking on September 30 to the hard-line Tasnim news agency, Jazayeri said that the Mina incident had many "unclear and suspicious dimensions," adding that Iranian armed forces "are ready to conduct any mission in this regard."

He did not clarify what kind of action Iranian forces might take.

Saudi Kidnapping?

Iran's hajj organization said in a statement carried by state TV on October 1 that 464 Iranians had been confirmed dead as a result of the hajj stampede, and their bodies identified. The organization also said that the status of all injured had been "completely cleared and reported."

But a week after the tragedy, hundreds of Iranian pilgrims had remained unaccounted for, leading to speculation about their fate.

Among them was Iran's former envoy to Beirut, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, whose death was acknowledged by the Interior Ministry on October 1. But prior to the announcement, Roknabadi's undetermined situation had led some hard-line websites and officials to suggest he had been kidnapped.

Roknabadi's presence in Beirut when an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group carried out a 2013 suicide bombing targeting the Iranian Embassy fueled suspicions that he may have been targeted in Mina.

Culture Ministry spokesman Hossein Noushabadi was quoted by the hard-line Fars news agency as saying on September 29 that a plot by Saudi security forces to kidnap Roknabadi was a "serious possibility."

Iran's Foreign Ministry has denied a report by the Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya news network that Roknabadi had traveled to Saudi Arabia under a fake name because there was no official record of his arrival in the kingdom to perform the hajj rituals.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said on September 28 that Roknabadi entered Saudi Arabia with his regular passport.

Other Iranian officials have cast doubt on conspiracy theories related to the stampede. Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, dismissed claims that Roknabadi had been snatched as "unreal."

Shamkhani was responding to a question by Tasnim about "reports of the kidnapping of Roknabadi and some Iranian commanders" during the hajj incident.

Shamkhani said some Arab governments had broken "the taboo of working with the Zionist regime," which, he said, was driving "doubts and suspicions" about whether some of the missing former Iranian officials were kidnapped.

Shamkhani added that the hajj incident was not "deliberate" and that it was likely the result of "incompetence and inefficiency."

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that the Saudi government should accept responsibility for the incident and apologize to Muslims.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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