Britons killed in Saudi Arabia coach crash

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionGulfaraz Zaman, director of Hashim Travel, called the incident 'disturbing'

Four British people have died and 12 others have been hurt in a coach crash in Saudi Arabia, a travel firm says.

Raj Begum Hussain, 70, from Blackburn, died alongside an elderly man and a mother and her grown-up son, all from Preston, in Lancashire.

The coach was travelling from Mecca on an Umrah pilgrimage, when it was hit by a fuel tanker which caught fire and set the bus alight, the firm said.

Trip organisers Hashim Travel said the incident on Saturday was "horrendous".

Eighteen people were aboard the coach when it crashed. All were taken to hospital, where six remain.

Mrs Hussain - a mother of six and a grandmother of 13 - was travelling with her younger sister who survived but was injured.

"She will be sorely missed by all family and friends. We would like to thank the whole community for their condolences and support at this difficult time," her family said in a statement.

It is understood that a young child was also among the injured.

The group were travelling as part of an Umrah pilgrimage and had been in Saudi Arabia for a week.

The crash happened near the start of the group's five-hour road trip from Mecca to Medina, near the town of Al Khalas.

The Umrah pilgrimage is on a smaller scale than the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Blackburn-based Hashim Travel says it specialises in Umrah and Hajj and has been providing travel packages to people in north-west England for 20 years.

The company's director, Gulfaraz Zaman, called the incident "horrendous" and "very distressing".

"If you see the remains of the bus, there's just the metal frame of it that's left," he told the BBC.

"It's very upsetting - especially the people that have passed away," he added, "our thoughts are with the families."

He said visas had been arranged for family members of the deceased who were now travelling out to Saudi Arabia.

The Council of British Hajjis said it was providing support to a British family which had been affected.

Rashid Mogradia, chief executive of Council of British Hajjis, told the BBC the route between Mecca and Medina was a long but "relatively safe journey".

A lot has been done by the Saudi authorities to improve the safety of pilgrims, he told the BBC.

Passengers on the bus were from Accrington, Preston, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Northampton and Blackburn.

Abdul Hamid Qureshi, chairman of Lancashire Council of Mosques said: "This is a very sad incident. Our prayers and thoughts are with the deceased and their families."

Conservative MP for Wyre and Preston North Ben Wallace tweeted his condolences and Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi, who is chair of the recently formed All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hajj and Umrah, said: "I am really saddened to hear of the death of pilgrims."

"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," a Foreign Office spokesperson said.

What is the Umrah?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The British nationals were travelling to the holy city of Medina on an Umrah pilgrimage

The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that takes place in the month of Dhul Hijjah, which is the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar.

The Umrah is an extra, optional pilgrimage and does not count as the once-in-a-lifetime Hajj.

Although it includes some of the rituals of the Hajj, they are shortened and there are fewer of them.

Unlike Hajj, it is not obligatory and can take place at any time of the year.