The Saudi Binladin Group is a huge company that has, until now, been the Saudi government’s “favorite contractor for important or sensitive work, including defense and security projects,” as Reuters puts it.
That all changed after the disastrous collapse of a crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on Friday, which killed 107 people and injured 238 more.
Not only has the Saudi Binladin Group been prohibited from accepting any new government contracts until a full investigation is completed and lawsuits are settled, but all of its existing projects are under review by the Finance Ministry, and King Salman even banned the company’s board members and senior executives from traveling abroad.
“The disaster was embarrassing for the Saudi ruling family, which defines itself as guardian of Islam’s holiest places and has embarked on a series of enormous construction projects in Mecca aimed at expanding its pilgrimage sites,” Reuters observes.
It is hard to overstate just how embarrassing this is for the Saudis, in addition to being a terrible human tragedy. The crane came down very close to the Kaaba, the exact point in Mecca that Muslims around the world are supposed to face during their daily prayers, just as the annual Hajj pilgrimage was getting underway.
There are conflicting reports about preliminary investigations into the crane collapse by the Saudi government, perhaps reflecting political pressure to charge the company with some form of malfeasance. NPR reported from its Cairo desk that investigators “found no criminal activity and attributed the crash to heavy winds that blew the crane down and on top of religious pilgrims below.” A strong thunderstorm with high winds was rolling over Mecca at the time. It has been suggested that lightning might have hit one of the cables that was holding the crane in place.
Reuters, however, asserts that the investigation “showed the crane was not erected in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.” An official statement concerning the ban on further Saudi Binladin Group contracts referred vaguely to the company’s “shortcomings.”
According to the Emirates 24/7 news service, King Salman has also ordered a payment of 1 million riyals (about $266,000 U.S.) to the family of each person killed or permanently disabled in the crane collapse, and half a million riyals to each injured person. This compensation is not meant to prevent victims and their families from filing suit for damages.
The king also announced that two members of each deceased victim’s family, and all those injured too badly to complete their pilgrimage this year, will be hosted as his guests during next year’s Hajj pilgrimage.
The Saudi Binladin Group’s name looks familiar for a good reason: it was founded eight decades ago by Mohammed bin Laden, the father of the late al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden and is currently run by Osama’s brother Bakr.