Saudi Arabia has started expelling 1,100 Nigerian women pilgrims for violating the kingdom's rule banning Muslim women from entering the country without a male guardian.

The women were detained after landing at the international airport in Jiddah and 171 were sent back yesterday, said an official.

In Saudi Arabia, women must be accompanied by or have permission from a "mahram" - a male guardian - to travel. But in the past, authorities allowed women to perform the annual hajj pilgrimage in groups with male tour operators.

There was no explanation for why the authorities were now enforcing the rule.