Saudi King hosts relatives of New Zealand terror attack victims for Hajj

JEDDAH: Family members of victims from the New Zealand mosque terrorist attack have arrived in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj.

The pilgrims flew into King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah on Friday.

King Salman last month directed that the families of the attack on two mosques that killed 51 people, are hosted for this year’s pilgrimage.

Some of the family members of the victims of the New Zealand mosque attacks arrive at King Abdul-Aziiz International Airport, Jeddaha

They were received by the director of passports at the airport, Col. Sulaiman Al-Yousef.

The reception was attended by New Zealand ambassador to the Kingdom James Monro and other officials.

Monro said the invitation from King Salman was an “exceptionally noble gesture.”

“This move was highly appreciated by the people of New Zealand, not only by the visiting pilgrims,” he said.

The attack on worshippers at Al-Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch during Friday prayers in March sparked a global outcry.

Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist, also wounded 49 people when he opened fire on the mosques. His trial is due to begin next year.

About 6,000 pilgrims will perform Hajj this year as part of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ guests program for Hajj and Umrah, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

King Salman issued directives to host 2,000 family members of Yemeni soldiers, 1,000 pilgrims from Sudan, 200 family members of the victims of the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, and 1,000 family members of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.

The total number of beneficiaries of the program since its inauguration has reached 53,747 pilgrims from around the world.

Islamic Affairs Minister Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh said that hosting the families during the Hajj season was part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to “confront and defeat terrorism” in all its forms.

Earlier, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Mohammed Salih Bentin reiterated the Kingdom’s call to pilgrims to dedicate their time to performing Hajj rituals, and to be considerate of their fellow pilgrims.

They must focus on feeling the spirituality of the journey and distance themselves from distractions, such as sectarian or political slogans, the minister said.

“The Kingdom will not tolerate conduct that disturbs Hajj rituals, and the authorities will take the necessary measures to prevent them.”