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JEDDAH: Damning new evidence has emerged of an Iranian plot to detonate bombs during the Hajj pilgrimage in 1986, using explosives planted in the baggage of innocent pilgrims before they flew to Saudi Arabia.

The pilgrims, about 100 elderly men and women from Iran, were unaware that their bags contained bombs. The explosives were detected, removed and made safe by Saudi authorities during the regular screening process, then returned to the visitors to continue their pilgrimage unhindered. 

The new evidence has been revealed in an interview on Iranian TV with Mullah Ahmed Montazeri, a leading cleric. He disclosed that the explosives were planted by Mehdi Hashemi, an Iranian radical and a senior figure in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), on the instructions of  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — at the time chairman of the High Council of Revolution Culture Affairs and supervisor of the IRGC, who became the country’s Supreme Leader in 1989. 

Hashemi had become head of the “liberation movements unit” of the IRGC in 1983, and “by order of Ali Khamenei, the shipment of explosives was packed into the bags of pilgrims in 1986,” Mullah Ahmed said.

He said the late Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, the Iranian theologian and one of the leaders of the 1979 revolution, had disclosed the plot in a letter to the first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He wrote: “The Revolutionary Guards made an unacceptable mistake during Hajj and used the bags of 100 Iranian pilgrims, including elderly men and women, without their knowledge. They lost the dignity of Iran and the Iranian revolution in the eyes of Saudi Arabia and during the Hajj season.”

The new evidence suggests that Iran’s malign regional meddling goes back more than 30 years, the analyst Mohammed Al-Sulami, head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies, told Arab News.

Al-Sulami said the practice at the time was for Iranian pilgrims to deliver their luggage to an Iranian government institution, which sealed the bags and and shipped them to Makkah or Madinah, where they were screened.

“Saudi investigations at the time undoubtedly showed that the elderly owners of the bags had no clue about the explosive charges, so they were allowed to perform Hajj without any complications” out of the Kingdom’s concern not to disrupt the Hajj season, he said

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