Skip to main content

Were missing Iranians arrested in Saudi Arabia?

Some Iranian officials are speculating that the Iranians still missing after the hajj disaster may have been arrested as Iran continues to watch the Saudi investigation with distrust.
Police vehicles drive past pilgrims on a road in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca September 24, 2015. At least 310 pilgrims were killed on Thursday in a crush at Mina, outside the Muslim holy city of Mecca, where some two million people are performing the annual Haj pilgrimage, Saudi authorities said. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood - RTX1S7WW

After a hajj stampede that killed 464 Iranians near the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia on Sept. 24, rumors have begun to circulate as to why, after two weeks, 69 Iranians are still unaccounted for.

On Oct. 6, Iran’s Health Minister Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi said, “Some of the missing may be among the arrested, or in detention centers or prisons of Saudi Arabia, or in hospitals.” Foreign Ministry official Hassan Ghashghavi said, “We do not know if these dear ones have joined God or if they have been detained somewhere. Until their bodies have been returned we can’t speak with certainty about this matter.”

The comments by the two officials made headlines in Iranian media. A number of high-ranking scientists and diplomats were among the hajj pilgrims, and their possible detention or interrogation would expose Iran to security or intelligence risks.

However, today, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to the hajj pilgrimage, Hojat al-Islam Seyed Ali Ghazi Asghar, asked officials not to speculate about the missing Iranians. “News in recent days based on the arrest of a number of Iranian pilgrims is not true,” he said. “All of the hospitals in Saudi Arabia and possible locations that were given where the bodies are held have been searched.” Ghazi Asghar asked Iranians to “not pay attention to rumors.”

There have been conflicting reports about the numbers missing and dead from the stampede. Saudi Arabia claims that a total of 769 were killed. As of its latest count, the Associated Press has put this number at over 1,360. Indonesia, Pakistan and India also claimed that the pictures offered to them by Saudi Arabia to identity the dead puts their number at 1,100. Saudi authorities said that those countries were shown pictures of those who also died from natural causes while on the hajj.

The tragedy has pushed Iran-Saudi tensions to new levels, given that Iran suffered the most casualties from the stampede. Khamenei, in one of his strongest speeches yet against Saudi Arabia, warned that Iran’s “self-restraint” was coming to an end and if the Saudi authorities do not resolve the issue satisfactorily, Iran’s response will be “tough and harsh.”

Despite comments by Ghazi Asghar meant to lower tensions and put an end to rumors, other Iranian officials continued to make harsh statements Oct. 8.

Gen. Yadollah Javani, a senior adviser to Khamenei from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said in reference to Khamenei’s statement that the “IRGC is ready and has the necessary ability to implement a command.”

Hojat al-Islam Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, who heads Khamenei’s office, called for Islamic countries to conduct an independent inquiry into the stampede, saying, “Whether the Mina tragedy was intentional or semi-intentional, it was connected to the incompetence of the Al Saud family.” Golpayegani added that Khamenei would not drop this issue until it is resolved.

At the funeral on Oct. 8 of a former Iranian ambassador who was killed in the stampede, Hojat al-Islam Mostafa Mirlouhi claimed, “The security of Mecca and Saudi Arabia is in the hands of Zionist companies.”

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

Text Alerts - Be the first to get breaking news, exclusives, and PRO content.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial