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Saudi Arabia frees detained Iranian pilgrim after mediation by Iraq, Oman

October 2, 2022 at 1:24 pm

Prospective pilgrims continue their worship to fulfill the Hajj pilgrimage as they take part in the stoning of the devil at Jamrat al-Aqaba during the Eid Al-Adha in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on July 11, 2022 [Ashraf Amra – Anadolu Agency]

An Iranian pilgrim arrested by Saudi authorities during the Hajj pilgrimage in July has been released by Riyadh following mediation by Iraq and Oman, Anadolu Agency reported.

The news was delivered to Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian by his Iraqi and Omani counterparts in separate calls on Saturday, according to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry on Sunday.

An Iranian national, Khalil Dardmand, was arrested in mid-July for allegedly tweeting an image of slain Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani near the Kaaba.

The image was tweeted on June 30. His last tweet, on July 13, showed pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba.

There was, however, no official comment from Saudi authorities about the Iranian national’s arrest, despite repeated calls by Tehran for his release.

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On August 5, almost three weeks after the arrest, Iran’s top diplomat Amir-Abdollahian asked his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein, to mediate in the matter.

Iraq has been hosting tension-easing talks between the two estranged Gulf neighbors since April last year, with five rounds of talks so far yielding significant results.

On August 18, Iran’s foreign minister also raised the matter with his Omani counterpart Sayyid Badr al-Busaidi, urging him to press the Saudi authorities for the pilgrim’s release.

Oman is among Iran’s all-weather allies in the region and has in the past mediated in disputes between Tehran and other countries, including the US and UK.

The issue had in the past few months generated tremendous outcry in Iran, with one of the top lawmakers warning of “counter-measures” if the pilgrim was not freed.

Saudi Arabia severed its diplomatic relations with Iran after Saudi diplomatic missions in the Iranian cities of Tehran and Mashhad were attacked by angry mobs in January 2016 over the execution of a prominent Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

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Later that year, Iran refused to send its pilgrims for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, accusing Saudi Arabia of “sabotage.”

The last few rounds of talks, brokered by Baghdad, have eased tensions between the two countries, with Amir-Abdollahian in July hinting that the talks would advance from the security to the political level.

Speculation has been rife about a possible meeting at the level of foreign ministers. However, no side has confirmed it yet.

Iran recently resumed diplomatic ties with the UAE and Kuwait, the two close Saudi allies who had snapped ties with Tehran after the attack on Saudi diplomatic missions in 2016, in solidarity with Riyadh.