King Salman of Saudi Arabia has ordered a safety review for the Hajj pilgrimage after at least 717 people died in a stampede near the holy city of Mekah….COT Azeez reports
The king said there was a need “to improve the level of organisation and management of movement” of pilgrims.
So far no report from British officials on victims. About 25,000 British-Muslims are on Hajj.
The stampede, the second deadly accident to hit the pilgrims this month following a crane collapse in Mekah, broke out during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual, the Saudi civil defense service said. Nearly two million people from across the globe were in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, one of the largest annual gatherings in the world.
The stampede began at around 9:00 am ( local time), shortly after the civil defense service said on Twitter it was dealing with a “crowding” incident in Mina, about five kilometers (three miles) from Mekah.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had converged on Mina on Thursday to throw pebbles at one of three walls representing Satan, for the last major ritual of the hajj, which officially ends on Sunday.
A group of pilgrims leaving the area collided with another group that was either moving in the opposite direction or camped outside, the official said.
Bodies were laid out on the ground, covered in white sheets and surrounded by personal belongings including shoes and umbrellas used by pilgrims to shield themselves from the sun. At one hospital, a steady stream of ambulances was arriving, discharging pilgrims carried inside on stretchers. Emergency teams worked to ease the human congestion and gave pilgrims access to alternative routes.
The incident came as the world’s two billion Muslims marked Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, the most important holiday of the Islamic calendar. It was the second major accident this year for hajj pilgrims, after a construction crane collapsed on September 11 at Mekah’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, killing 109 people including many foreigners. The Hajj is among the five pillars of Islam and every capable Muslim must perform it at least once in a lifetime.
For years, the pilgrimage was marred by stampedes and fires, but it had been largely incident-free for nearly a decade following safety improvements.
In the last major incident in January 2006, 364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede during the stoning ritual in Mina.In 1990 a huge stampede in a tunnel at Mina after a failure in its ventilation system killed 1,426 pilgrims, mainly from Asia.
Thursday’s tragedy occurred outside the five-storey Jamarat Bridge, which was erected in the last decade at a cost of more than $1 billion and intended to improve safety during the pilgrimage. 300,000 pilgrims an hour can carry out the ritual.
Official figures released Thursday said 1,952,817 pilgrims had performed this year’s hajj, including almost 1.4 million foreigners. The faithful had gathered until dawn Thursday at nearby Muzdalifah where they chose their pebbles and stored them in empty water bottles.
They had spent a day of prayer Wednesday on a vast Saudi plain and Mount Arafat, a rocky hill about 10 kilometres (six miles) from Mina, for the peak of the hajj pilgrimage.
The ritual emulates the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), who is said to have stoned the devil at three locations when he tried to dissuade Ibrahim from God’s order to sacrifice his son Ishmael. At the last moment, God spares the boy, sending a sheep to be sacrificed in his place. The world’s Muslims commemorated Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son by slaughtering cows, sheep and other animals on Thursday.