Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef ben Abdel Aziz is vowing to fend off any terrorist attack during the hajj. The annual event begins on November 15, but many Muslims from around the world have already begun arriving in the kingdom.
Saudi security forces showed off their colors at military exercises outside the holy city of Mecca. Long formations of troops, some simulating attack positions marched behind military vehicles, troop carriers and ambulances, as helicopters flew overhead.
General Security chief Said Qahtani told Saudi TV that roads leading into and out of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina would be kept clear and his men were stationed in visible places along the pilgrimage route.
Interior Minister Prince Nayef warned journalists that it was possible al-Qaida might try to mount an attack, but vowed to do everything possible to prevent violence.
He said that he cannot exclude the possibility of a violent act that would disturb the security of pilgrims, but that his security forces are ready for any possible violence.
"God willing," he insisted, his men "will be able to prevent any such violence with their readiness and determination."
Saudi Minister of the Hajj Fouad al Farsi echoed Prince Nayef by requesting the good will and cooperation of all pilgrims to keep the annual hajj safe.
He said that (Saudi authorities) are asking for the voluntary cooperation of all pilgrims in a pro-active attempt to ensure that the hajj will be safe and secure.
A number of pilgrims have died in recent years due to stampedes, tent fires and rioting by Iranian pilgrims. A bloody hostage siege also occurred during the hajj in 1979. But in recent years the Saudis have attempted to prevent violence and have built bridges to avoid stampedes.
American University of Beirut Political Science Professor Hilal Khashan points out a small explosion could cause a large loss of life among the vast crowds of pilgrims.
"The Saudis are doing all they can to prevent violence or setting up an explosive device, which can inflict heavy casualties. Just imagine the number of people who would be located at the holy shrines to perform the rituals. So, even a small charge could inflict dozens, if not hundreds of casualties," he said.
Khashan points out that al-Qaida and other extremist groups do not worry about killing pilgrims, because they are on a mission and do not see their victims as Muslims.
"Al-Qaida and other militant Islamic groups do not see pilgrims necessarily as Muslims. For them, true Islam is the practice of pristine modes of behavior that prevailed in the first 150 years of Islam," Khashan said. "Therefore, the true Muslims (are those who) believe in their own mission of breaking down the political orders of Islamic societies by force. For them, people who might be at the hajj are nominal Muslims and are not really on the right path of Islam."
Saudi officials indicated there would be more than two-million pilgrims participating in this year's hajj. Saudi TV noted this year's estimate is an increase of 20 percent in the number participants last year.