RIYADH - Saudi religious police beat a group of Iraqi pilgrims holding British and US citizenship in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, a Saudi Shiite news website and a Western source said Monday.
"There was a misunderstanding which led to a quarrel between a group of British pilgrims of Iraqi origin and members of the religious police in Mecca" on Sunday, a Western diplomat said, requesting anonymity.
Some of the pilgrims were held by members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, commonly known as Muttawa, for a few hours and released, he said.
Commission spokesman Ahmad al-Jardan refused to comment when approached.
But the Shiite news website rasid.net said the Muttawa beat the pilgrims with sticks after accusing them of being "infidels" as they circled the holy Kaaba stone at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam's holiest site.
Some in the group, who hold British and United States passports and included women and children as well as sons of Iraqi politicians, were detained for up to 24 hours, said the website, an outlet used by members of the Shiite minority in Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia.
The website, which cited the Iraqi information centre in Washington, said some of the pilgrims were badly injured. It said they included the son of Iraqi parliamentarian Ridha Jawad Taqi.
Saudi officials said they had no information about such an incident.
Religious police who enforce a strict Islamic moral code in Saudi Arabia are increasingly being criticised by the public for perceived abuses.
The daily Arab News reported on Monday that a Nigerian convert to Islam was jailed in Riyadh after he helped a sick 63-year-old woman and was then accused by the religious police of immoral behaviour.