TEHRAN, AUG. 16 -- The head of the Iranian Red Crescent said today he saw Saudi security forces open fire with automatic rifles and pistols on demonstrating Iranian pilgrims at Mecca during a clash that led to the deaths of 322 Iranians.
Dr. Vahid Dasjerdi, director general of Red Crescent, Iran's emergency medical service, also charged that the Saudi government has failed to return about 90 bodies to Iran because "they have more than one bullet in them.
"We do not deny that some people may have died because they were trampled underfoot," he said, "but most of the bodies we have seen were hit with glass and wood."
The Saudi government has said security forces did not fire on the demonstrators in the July 31 violence, and that most of those killed were trampled underfoot in a panicked retreat by the crowd. It placed the number of Iranian demonstrators in the tens of thousands, and the number of those killed at 402, of whom it said 275 were Iranian.
Some returning pilgrims have said they heard shots fired from pistols and automatic weapons during the confrontation at Mecca, but many others said they did not hear gunfire. The secretary to a Malaysian Cabinet minister has said he observed pilgrims shooting at Saudi police with pistols, and Saudis shooting back with automatic weapons.
Dasjerdi said he witnessed the confrontation from the middle of a crowd of 100,000 Iranian pilgrims advancing toward the Grand Mosque of Mecca in a demonstration against "infidels, Israel and America."
Dasjerdi also said Saudi police fired from rooftops with submachine guns and pistols after other Saudis had pelted the crowd with bottles and sticks. A Saudi videotape of the early stages of the confrontation shows helmeted police wielding batons, and Iranian pilgrims using sticks and stones against police and other pilgrims.
"More than 100,000 persons heard the sound of the gunfire, and the doctors in our hospitals have taken many bullets from the bodies of victims, including some bullets that were the kind that explode inside the body," he said.
Dasjerdi spoke at a news conference for American and European reporters granted visas for a rare visit to Iran. Iranian officials have said the visas were given to provide an opportunity for Iran to tell its story about the violence at Mecca.
The bloody clashes in Islam's most sacred shrine have produced a rush of official anger in Tehran and a string of accusations against Saudi Arabia, guardian of Mecca and the second most sacred site in Islam, Medina. Dasjerdi said today the Saudis deliberately provoked the confrontation because they are "American Moslems" seeking to be "good puppets" and help the United States in its standoff with Iran in the Persian Gulf.
The Iranian government has declared that the incident shows the Saudi royal family is unworthy of responsibility for the Islamic holy places, a grave accusation in the Moslem world and an attack on what King Fahd has called his most important charge as Saudi ruler.
Dasjerdi rejected Saudi contentions that the annual pilgrimage to Mecca is an inappropriate moment for politically oriented demonstrations. A number of clashes over this issue have broken out at Mecca since the Iranian revolution in 1979 brought an Islamic Republic to Iran.