Two Britons were among the 107 people killed after a crane crashed into Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world had already arrived in Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, when the tragedy took place last Friday (11).
It is believed the crane had been blown over by strong winds and storms, breaking part of the roof and causing rubble to fall on those praying below.
Three Britons were also injured along with more than 230 others.
David Cameron tweeted from his Number 10 office account: “My thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones at Mecca today.”
Qasim Akram, 33, from Bolton, was one of the people killed. The father-of-four, believed to be a private hire driver, had been in the Grand Mosque with his parents when the crane struck the mosque, which is Islam’s holiest site.
His parents are believed to have escaped without injury.
Bolton councillor Akhtar Zaman, had seen Akram only days before his death. He said: “He was really looking forward to it, smiling and asking me for tips because I went last year.
“He was on hajj pilgrimage to Mecca with his parents. He arrived Friday morning. He was in the Grand Mosque with his family and that’s when the crane struck.
“They were in the same vicinity but he was maybe 50 yards ahead of his parents. That’s when the accident happened. They lost contact with him and couldn’t find him. They found out when the authorities identified him.”
Zaman added: “I knew Qasim personally. He was the most pleasant, hard-working, smiling and helpful young man you could ever meet.
“He’s from quite a big family and they are devastated. He is married and has four kids. I think the youngest may be one-and-a half or two years-old.
“I don’t know how to describe this loss. He was a member of the mosque and very active. He was the son of one of the founding members.
“He helped with the affairs and the running of the mosque. His father was the secretary. It is a huge loss to hisfamily and for the wider community.”
Rashid Mogradia, CEO of the Council of British Hajjis, a national charity providing support for British pilgrims based in Bolton, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased and all those who have been affected by this tragic accident.
“The council commends the efforts by the Saudi Authorities and the British Consulate in Saudi Arabia who have worked hard to support those affected.
“The crane was among several being used to expand the area around the mosque to allow it to accommodate millions of Muslims who travel to worship there during the pilgrimage.”
Foreign secretary Philip Hammond said he was shocked and saddened to hear of the accident in Mecca.
“My thoughts are with the families of those affected,” he said. “We can confirm that two British nationals were killed when a crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
“We are in contact with the local authorities and providing support to the families at this difficult time.”
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman vowed to find out what caused the tragedy. “We will investigate all the reasons and declare the results to the citizens,” Salman said after visiting the site.
Indonesians and Indians were also among those killed when the crane collapsed, while the injured included Malaysians, Egyptians, Iranians, Turks, Afghans and Pakistanis.