The head of Saudi Arabia's civil defense directorate says high winds caused a massive crane to topple over and smash into Mecca's Grand Mosque yesterday, killing at least 107 people at Islam's holiest site ahead of the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. The official says unusually powerful winds in the area also tore down trees and signs as a storm whipped through the area, but denies reports that lightning brought down the red-and-white crane or that some of those killed died in a stampede.
The civil defense directorate says 238 people were injured in the accident at the mosque, which houses the cube-shaped Kaaba and is ringed by several cranes engaged in ongoing construction work to expand the site. The director's chief says the crane, which was being used in construction work at the mosque, struck a circular area around the Kaaba and a nearby walkway. Images posted by social media users showed a grisly scene, with police and onlookers attending to numerous bodies lying amid pools of blood on the polished mosque floors. It wasn't immediately clear who owns the crane, though the Saudi Binladin Group, which disowned Osama bin Laden in the '90s, is leading the mosque expansion. (Read more Mecca stories.)