Over a million Muslims began the official hajj from the holy city of Mecca toward the nearby Mina Valley on Thursday amid tight security deriving from fears about the Islamic State.
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"It is a beautiful feeling," said Aziza Yousfy, 60, from Algeria, before she left Mecca, according to Irish news site RTE. Seeing Mina and Mount Arafat "has always been a dream for me," she said.
The passage to Mina marks the official start of the hajj on the eighth day of the Muslim calendar month of Dhul Hijja. There are an estimated 1.4 million Muslims making the annual pilgrimage this year.
Saudi authorities dispatched 60,000 security officers around pilgrimage sites, using hundreds of surveillance cameras and scanners to screen for unregistered pilgrims, the Saudi media reported. The alert also comes against the background of Saudi Arabia supporting American strikes against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
"Judging from its published statements and videos and its penchant for revolting acts of violence, I would not be surprised at all if ISIS tried to disrupt the hajj in some fashion," said Fahad Nazer, a terrorism analyst with the Virginia-based contractor JTG," Huffington Post reported Tuesday.
Missing from this year's hajj are pilgrims from the countries hardest-hit by the Ebola virus.
Saudi Arabia banned hajj and work visas this year for people from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea as a precaution to avoid the spread of Ebola during hajj, which sees massive crowds of people from around the world gather in Mecca.