Ex Iranian ambassor to Lebanon missing after Saudi hajj stampede


Ghazanfar Rokn-AbadiA former Iranian ambassador to Lebanon is feared to have died in the stampede at the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia that killed more than 750 worshippers. Ghazanfar Roknabadi, who worked as the country’s ambassador in Beirut until last year, has been declared missing and is believed to have been at the pilgrimage to Mecca, Iran’s state TV said.

A broadcast on Saturday said that two Iranian state TV reporters and a prominent political analyst were also missing after the stampede, which killed at least 769, according to the latest figures from Saudi health minister Khalid al-Falih, and injured hundreds more.

At least 134 Iranian pilgrims died and 85 were injured in the incident on Thursday, while 354 Iranian pilgrims remain missing, according to the report. Iran has strongly criticised Saudi Arabia over the disaster, blaming the Saudi government for “incompetence” and “mismanagement” of the annual hajj.

“The latest statistics up to this hour reveal 769 dead,” Falih told a news conference on Saturday. “That is an increase of 52 on the previous figures. Those are the ones who died in various hospitals since the event.” He added that the number of people injured in the incident now stood at 934.

As a former ambassador to Lebanon, Roknabadi would have been a senior figure within the Iranian elite, according to Arron Merat, an Iran analyst. Roknabadi was in charge of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Beirut when the Iranian embassy in Lebanon was hit by twin suicide blasts which left at least 25 people dead, including six Iranian nationals – including the embassy’s cultural attache.

Responsibility for that attack was claimed by a Sunni terror group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which was led by a Saudi national, Majed al-Majed, who subsequently died in Lebanese custody. It came just months after Roknabadi had talked up chances of a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

He was also outspoken about Israel’s alleged support for foreign-sponsored Islamic militants operating inside Syria against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, claiming that the attacks in Lebanon and Syria were benefiting the Jewish state.