JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - A Saudi man was killed and his wife and two children were injured when their car crashed off a bridge while being pursued by religious police in the conservative Islamic kingdom, a spokesman for the religious police said on Monday.
In Saudi Arabia, a monarchy that follows a strict version of Sunni Islam, the religious police patrol the streets to enforce gender segregation and ensure the public behave in accordance with their strict Islamic teachings.
Formally known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), religious police officers arrest those who do not comply with their rules. In March the commission’s head banned car pursuits which had led to several fatal accidents.
Family members told Saudi Arabia’s al-Watan newspaper that the chase began when a CPVPV officer confronted Abdulrahman Ahmed al-Ghamdi, 35, and his family while he was returning home from an amusement park in the southern province of al-Baha. They said the loud volume of Ghamdi’s car radio prompted the confrontation.
The car sped off, police in pursuit, and crashed over a bridge, killing Ghamdi. His nine year-old son is in a coma and his wife had her arm amputated as a result of the accident, al-Watan reported. His younger daughter, 4, was in stable condition in hospital.
Nasser al-Zahrani, a spokesman for the CPVPV in al-Baha confirmed the report. “There is a committee set up and an investigation ongoing to look into the incident,” he said.
Sheikh Abdulatif Al al-Sheikh, the head the CPVPV, was quoted in the local al-Watan newspaper commenting on the incident. “I have expressed my sadness and regret to the (al-Baha governor) and we hope that he will forward the case to the appropriate department for investigation.”
The religious police have been trying to soften their image after gaining the reputation of being aggressive following several fatal accidents, prompting criticism at home and abroad. The decision to ban car chases was not widely accepted by all members of the religious police.
In January King Abdullah replaced the head of the religious police, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Humain, with Al al-Sheikh, who swiftly banned the activities of “volunteers” who take it on themselves to chase or detain presumed sharia violators.
Reporting by Asma Alsharif; editing by Sami Aboudi and Ralph Boulton