Kingdom on alert, but it's business as usual for pilgrims
Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, said at a press conference today that the Kingdom remains on alert for a possible Al-Qaeda attack next week during the Hajj.
The Saudis take the safety and security of pilgrims very seriously, to the point where they've offered some of us media guys a tour of their security control room next week during the Hajj. It's a side of the Hajj you don't normally see: For all the millions of pilgrims who go about performing the rites without a care in the world, there's a massive team of Saudi officials (including doctors, police, firefighters, security personnel, even multilingual pilgrimage guides) working behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly.
They really do take this stuff seriously - to the extent that they even offer free medical care to anyone who needs it. It goes back to the traditional Arab sense of honor. The Saudis still consider pilgrims to be their "guests" in the kingdom, which means they take it upon themselves to look after their well-being. That includes their security.
In the few years since I was last here, Saudi officials have made leaps and bounds in their security apparatus. From barcoded visas and ID tags to advanced screening equipment at the airport, they've made it much harder for bad things to happen. Which is not to say that it couldn't happen, but that leads to the next point.
For pilgrims, it's very much business as usual. In all my discussions with pilgrims from overseas, nobody seems overly concerned about anything terror-related. The Hajj itself is a very gruelling ritual. Most people are too busy and/or focused on it to worry about much else.