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ALGERIA: Alleged rape and slaying of girl during Saudi pilgrimage sparks outrage

September 20, 2010 |  2:15 pm

Picture 10New developments in the mysterious death and alleged rape of a 15-year-old Algerian-French girl in Saudi Arabia's holiest city are unlikely to quell outrage among Algerians who are already suspicious of police handling of the case.

In an odd piece published Sunday, the Saudi English-language newspaper Arab News quoted a forensic report concluding that Sara Khatib was not raped before she fell to her death from the 16th floor of her hotel in Mecca where she was staying with her family while performing the Umrah pilgrimage.

Arab News went on to quote an unnamed source quoting the girl's stepfather as saying Khatib went up to the roof of the hotel unattended with a Yemeni worker, which was "her mistake and she got her punishment."

Khatib's body was found early last Wednesday on the roof of a neighboring hotel, and early press reports suggested Khatib was either raped and then pushed or jumped to escape being raped. Four expatriates of Yemeni and Bangladeshi origin are reportedly being questioned in connection with her death.

News of the girl's death immediately sparked angry protests by Algerian Muslim pilgrims who shut down the main road near the hotel and demanded to see the Algerian ambassador. The Algerian newspaper Echorouk had previously questioned Saudi authorities' response, pointing out that they had begun denying the girl had been raped just a few hours after the crime but before a proper investigation had been carried out.

Echorouk also attacked the Saudi press for focusing on a possible romantic relationship between the girl and one of the Yemeni suspects. The paper went on to quote Khatib's biological father accusing the Saudi press of destroying her reputation in order to save face for Saudi Arabia. He also called her stepfather a "good man" who "knows how to look after his daughter."

Saudi Arabia has been criticized in the past for how it prosecutes sexual assault. In 2007 and again in 2009, victims of rape were sentenced to jail time and lashes for illicit contact with men.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Saudi police attend to the body of 15-year-old Sara Khatib. Credit: Echorouk.