Pilgrims resume hajj after at least 719 killed in stampede

Pilgrims resume hajj after at least 719 killed in stampede

Muslim pilgrims are continuing with the final rites of hajj a day after more than 700 people died in a stampede.

The hajj pilgrimage is a main pillar of Islam that all able-bodied Muslims are expected to perform once in their lifetime.

This year, around two million people from more than 180 countries took part in the five-day pilgrimage, which ends on Saturday.

In Mina, just outside Mecca, pilgrims took part in a symbolic casting away of evil. The mood remained sombre despite the hajj coinciding with Eid al-Adha, a major Islamic holiday.

Among those killed in Mina during the crush of people were pilgrims from Iran, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Egypt and Afghanistan.

Saudi authorities said at least 719 people were killed and 863 were wounded in the disaster.

It was the second major disaster during this year’s hajj season, raising questions about the adequacy of measures put in place by Saudi authorities to ensure the safety of those taking part in the pilgrimage.

A crane collapse in Mecca nearly two weeks earlier left 111 people dead.

Many of the victims were crushed and trampled to death as they were on their way to perform a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone columns in Mina, a large valley about three miles from Mecca that has been the site of hajj stampedes in past years.

The area houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage.

Survivors said the disaster began when one wave of pilgrims found themselves heading into a mass of people going in another direction.

“I saw someone trip over someone in a wheelchair and several people tripping over him. People were climbing over one another just to breathe,” said one of the survivors, Abdullah Lotfy, 44, from Egypt. “It was like a wave. You go forward and suddenly you go back.”

Mr Lotfy said that having two flows of pilgrims interacting in this way should never have happened. “There was no preparation. What happened was more than they were ready for,” he said of the Saudi authorities.

Saudi Arabia takes great pride in its role as the caretaker of Islam’s holiest sites and host to millions of pilgrims annually.

But the hajj poses an immense logistical and security challenge for the kingdom, given the sheer number of hundreds of thousands of people, from differing linguistic and cultural backgrounds, many of whom have saved for years for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the hajj, intent on following the same set of rituals at about the same time.

The kingdom’s interior ministry said that the crush appears to have been caused by two waves of pilgrims meeting at an intersection. King Salman ordered the creation of a committee to investigate the incident.

The ministry’s spokesman, Major General Mansour al-Turki, said high temperatures and the fatigue of the pilgrims may also have been factors in the disaster.

He said there was no indication that authorities were to blame for the event, adding that “unfortunately, these incidents happen in a moment”.

Thousands of Iranian worshippers marched in Tehran after Friday prayers to denounce the "incompetency'" of Saudi Arabia in handling the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Shiite powerhouse Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, has said Riyadh is to blame for the disaster because of its alleged mismanagement of the pilgrimage, which annually draws hundreds of thousands of people.

Iranian authorities said at least 131 of the country’s pilgrims were killed in the crush, while 85 were injured.

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