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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Four Britons dead in Saudi Arabia coach crash

Travel agent says bus carrying 18 people collided with an oil tanker after leaving Mecca

Masjid al-Haram or Great Mosque of Mecca in Mecca, Saudi Arabia at dawn. File photo. Getty Images
Masjid al-Haram or Great Mosque of Mecca in Mecca, Saudi Arabia at dawn. File photo. Getty Images

Four British tourists died north of Mecca, Saudi Arabia when their coach collided with a petrol tanker on a main road, their UK travel agent told local media.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed Britons were among the victims, which happened in a town roughly 45 kilometres north of the holy city of Mecca.

"We are supporting the British families of those who have died and those injured following a serious road traffic accident near the town of Al Khalas, Saudi Arabia," the Foreign Office said in an emailed statement on Sunday.

The accident reportedly happened on Saturday but the Foreign Office would not confirm the details when contacted by The National.

The coach, believed to be carrying 18 people, was at the start of a road trip between Mecca and Medina when it was hit by the tanker and caught fire, Sky News reported.

One of the victims was a woman in her 60s from Blackburn. She was named locally as Raj Begum Hussain. Three others were from Preston, believed to be a man, and a mother and son, the Hashim Travel company told the Lancashire Telegraph.

A young child is also believed to be among the injured.

"There was a crash between the coach and a petrol tanker," Gulfaraz Zaman, the director of the Blackburn company, told the Lancashire Telegraph. "There were 18 people on the coach which was travelling back from Mecca towards Medina."

The newspaper said the accident occurred on Saturday.

The group were on a trip booked through the Blackburn firm, based in Audley Range. Hashim Travel did not answer their land line or mobile phone on Sunday.

Other passengers injured in the crash were from UK towns including Accrington, Preston, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Northampton and Blackburn.

“We pray that god blesses them and their family. They were on a very, very good journey," CEO of Lancashire Council of Mosques, Abdul Qureshi, said.

“We will be there for the family for any support and guidance they need.”

Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, Councillor Mohammed Khan, told the local newspaper that he visited the woman's family and passed on his condolences.

The Umrah is a pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time year-round. While Umrah is not compulsory, it is recommended in Islam. In Arabic, Umrah means "to visit a populated place". It is sometimes referred to as the "minor pilgrimage" or "lesser pilgrimage", with the Hajj being the "major" pilgrimage which is compulsory for every Muslim who can afford it.

Hashim Travel has specialised in arranging Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages for 15 years for clients based in north-east England. Passengers typically pay about £4,300 (Dh22,100) for a Hajj trip including accommodation and travel within Saudi Arabia, according to the firm's website.