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Tight security surrounds Hajj

About 2 million pilgrims are expected to take part in the Hajj this year  

By CNN's Zain Verjee

MECCA, Saudi Arabia -- Tight security is surrounding the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca -- the first since the September 11 terror attack on the United States.

A 24-hour monitoring system watching for any sign of trouble has been set up by the Saudi government, with 650 surveillance cameras watching for any sign of trouble.

In the past there have been clashes with Iranian demonstrators and a siege at the grand mosque.

September 11 has made security a sensitive issue at the Hajj. Osama bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia and has supporters in the country. There is also concern that some of those supporters may use the Hajj as a cover to regroup or recruit.

Thousands of Muslim pilgrims have arrived in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the start of Hajj where security is the top priority. CNN's Zain Verjee reports. (February 17)

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Saudi Arabia's interior minister, Prince Naef bin Abdul Aziz, says it would be un-Islamic for anyone to undermine the Hajj and warns that the government will act decisively against any protesters.

About 12,000 guards are deployed around Mecca and its surrounding areas, and plainclothes officers mingle in the crowds.

After touchdown at Jeddah's international airport, the pilgrims go through a baggage check where suitcases are X-rayed and searched for weapons.

The pilgrims are carefully questioned before a stamp of approval is issued.

Pilgrims also surrender their passports when they arrive and get them back only when they leave.

On the way to Mecca, there are five checkpoints on the main roads where officers track who's who.

Security officers record where each pilgrim has come from and how they are traveling on to Mecca.

About 2 million people will be at the Hajj this year. Many pilgrims say they feel safe, and the Saudi government wants it to stay that way.

The pilgrimage is one of the five central Pillars of Islam. All Muslims who are physically and financially able are expected to perform the Hajj at least once.


• The Hajj

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