A Frenchman died after throwing himself off of the roof of Mecca’s Grand Mosque during the evening of Friday, June 8, 2018.
A police spokesperson confirmed to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, “At 9:20 p.m., a foreigner threw himself from the roof of the Grand Mosque in Mecca to the ground floor of the circumambulation nave, resulting in his instant death.” The spokesperson added that the man’s body “was rushed to a hospital, pending the results of investigation into the incident to determine the victim’s identity, what led to the act and how he was able to commit it, despite the installation of a metal fence to protect people from falling down.”
The French foreign ministry has confirmed that the man was French but did not provide any further details. However, several Saudi news outlets have reported that the man was a 26-year-old convert to Islam.
The incident was captured in a video, which has been circulating online. The video shows the man plummeting to his death amid a crowd of thousands of worshippers who had gathered for Friday prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.
The Grand Mosque, which was originally built during the reign of Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab in the seventh century, is the largest mosque in the world and can accommodate up to 770,000 worshippers simultaneously. Most Muslims consider it the most sacred Islamic site, the heart of the mosque is the Kaaba, or House of Allah. Ibrahim and his son, Ismail are believed to have built the mosque – it is toward this structure that Muslims around the world face during the performance of their daily prayers. The circumambulation nave, where the unnamed Frenchman fell to his death, surrounds the Kaaba. During the hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage, worshippers circumambulate around the Kaaba seven times in a counter-clockwise direction, an act that is referred to as the tawaaf.
Despite the fact that suicide is considered a major sin in Islam, this was not the first suicide attempt to occur at the Grand Mosque. In fact, just last year – in February of 2017 – a Saudi man attempted to light himself on fire in front of the Kaaba but was stopped by security forces. Major Sameh al Salami, the spokesperson of the Grand Mosque’s dedicated police force, suggested that the man’s “behavior” gave the impression that he was “mentally disturbed.” According to eyewitnesses, the man also tried to set fire to the black and gold silk covering that shrouds the Kaaba while he muttered accusations of apostasy, called takfir in Arabic.
A few months after the attempted self-immolation in the Grand Mosque, Saudi security forces foiled a suicide attack during the final days of Ramadan. In late June of 2017, the kingdom’s Interior Ministry announced that three terror cells had planned to attack the Grand Mosque as worshippers gathered to pray. Security forces surround the would-be bomber’s base – in Mecca’s Ajyad al-Masafi neighborhood, which is in the immediate vicinity of the mosque – as soon as they had detected the threat. After several volleys of fire, the man blew up the building in which he was trapped. The building subsequently collapsed, injuring eleven people and killing the suspect.
Most Muslim scholars and clerics consider suicide – including suicide bombings – to be forbidden in Islam, citing a verse from the Quran that instructs, “And do not kill yourselves, surely God is most Merciful to you” (Sura 4, An-Nisa, ayat 29). However, some scholars have argued that individuals suffering from mental disorders such as clinical depression or severe anxiety are not in full control of their senses and, therefore, may not be fully responsible for their actions. Whether or not terrorists should be considered mentally ill has long been a contentious question, especially in light of recent so-called “lone wolf” attacks perpetrated by western and non-Muslim actors.
Visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources concerning suicide prevention.