Saudi officials have arrested a man in Mecca for being a Christian, saying that the city, which Muslims consider to be holy, is off-limits to non-Muslims.
Nirosh Kamanda, a Sri Lankan Christian, was detained by the Saudi Expatriates Monitoring Committee last week after he started to sell goods outside Mecca's Great Mosque.
After running his fingerprints through a new security system, Saudi police discovered that he was a Christian who had arrived in the country six months earlier to take a job as a truck driver in the city of Dammam. Kamanda had subsequently left his place of work and moved to Mecca.
"The Grand Mosque and the holy city are forbidden to non-Muslims," Col. Suhail Matrafi, head of the department of Expatriates Affairs in Mecca, told the Saudi daily Arab News. "The new fingerprints system is very helpful and will help us a lot to discover the identity of a lot of criminals," he said.
Similar restrictions apply to the Saudi city of Medina. In a section entitled, "Traveler's Information," the Web site of the Saudi Embassy in Washington states that, "Mecca and Medina hold special religious significance and only persons of the Islamic faith are allowed entry."
Highway signs at the entrance to Mecca also direct non-Muslims away from the city's environs.