RIYADH (Dispatches) –
Almost 2 million pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia from around the world to perform the lesser pilgrimage, Umrah.
According to the Saudi Gazette, the air, land and sea ports in the kingdom recorded the arrival of 1,964,964 pilgrims from outside the country. The ten-month Umrah season will end just before the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Pilgrims from Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, formed the majority of foreign pilgrims at 551,410. Pakistan came second with 370,083 pilgrims, followed by India with 230,794 pilgrims. More than 150,000 pilgrims came from neighboring Iraq, while 101,657 arrived from Egypt.
Meanwhile, as Saudi Arabia is hardening crackdown on dissent, including targeting its citizens who live abroad, a Yemeni-American citizen has been detained in Saudi Arabia while performing the Umrah pilgrimage at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site.
Mohamad Salem was taken into custody on November 1 and has been transferred to a maximum-security facility typically used for high-profile political prisoners and suspected terrorists.
Salem, a 63-year-old of Yemeni origin, is one of several Americans who have recently run afoul of Saudi authorities.
Abdallah Moughni, a family spokesman from the U.S. state of Michigan said on Sunday that Salem traveled to Saudi Arabia with two of his sons to perform the Umrah pilgrimage.
While in line, he got into a verbal altercation with security officials who separated him from his sons.
Later, two men approached him, saying they were from Libya and asking what happened.
“At this point, Mohamad was livid, he was furious. He just let it out. He said, ‘If it was not for Mecca and Medina, we would burn this country to the ground’,” Moughni was quoted as saying on Sunday.
The two men turned out to be undercover Saudi agents, and Salem was detained.
Salem’s relatives have grown increasingly concerned for his welfare since he was transferred to Dhahban Central Prison, where rights groups previously documented allegations of torture via electrocution and flogging.
Saudi Arabia is often criticized for not tolerating dissent and has recently been in the spotlight for decades-long prison sentences handed down to a number of women who tweeted and retweeted posts critical of the Riyadh regime.