JEDDAH (AFP): Saudi authorities said on Tuesday they are taking legal action against two police officers accused of sexually assaulting a pair of Iranian male pilgrims, an incident which Tehran protested.
The Saudis began proceedings after allegations of “sexual harassment against two teenage Iranian victims” at Jeddah airport, the interior ministry spokesman said, cited by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The suspects have been referred “for investigation and to take the necessary procedures”, the spokesman said, adding that Tehran’s ambassador has been informed.
The incident came during heightened tensions between Sunni Saudi Arabia and its Shiite regional rival Iran over Yemen.
Saudi Arabia leads an Arab coalition which is in the third week of air strikes targeting Shiite Huthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen.
Riyadh accuses Iran of supporting the Huthis, but Iran has dismissed as “utter lies” accusations that it armed the rebels.
The Islamic republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that the coalition’s “criminal acts” against the Huthis must end.
Iran’s culture minister said on Monday that his country has suspended pilgrimages to Muslim holy places in Saudi Arabia “until the criminals are tried and punished”.
Iranian media reported that the incident occurred as the youths prepared to return home after a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in late March.
About 500,000 Iranians annually perform the umrah, or lesser pilgrimage.
The Saudi security spokesman said the kingdom’s Islamic-based legal system “will ensure the strictest penalties for perpetrators of these type of crimes, which are condemned by all sectors of Saudi Muslim society”