Thursday, September 24, 2015

More than 700 pelgrims killed in haj catastrophe

(Photo AP)

At least 717 pilgrims from around the world were killed on Thursday in a crush at the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi authorities said, in the worst disaster to strike the annual haj pilgrimage for 25 years.At least 863 others were injured. Saudi King Salman said he had ordered a review of haj plans after the disaster, in which two large groups of pilgrims arrived together at a crossroads in Mina, a few kilometers east of Mecca, on their way to performing the "stoning of the devil" ritual at Jamarat.
Thursday's disaster was the worst to occur at the pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims suffocated in a tunnel near Mecca. Both incidents occurred on Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), Islam's most important feast and the day of the stoning ritual.
Photographs published on the Twitter feed of Saudi civil defense on Thursday showed pilgrims lying on stretchers while emergency workers in high-visibility jackets lifted them into an ambulance.
Other images showed bodies of men in white haj garments piled on top of each other. Some corpses bore visible injuries. Safety during the haj is a politically sensitive issue for the kingdom's ruling Al Saud dynasty, which presents itself internationally as the guardian of orthodox Islam and custodian of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina.
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the Saudi government should accept responsibility for the crush, in which more than 100 Iranian nationals were reported to have died. "The Saudi government should accept the responsibility of this sorrowful incident ... Mismanagement and improper actions have caused this catastrophe," Khamenei said in a statement published on his website.
King Salman offered deep condolences. "We have instructed concerned authorities to review the operations plan ... (and) to raise the level of organization and management to ensure that the guests of God perform their rituals in comfort and ease," the monarch said.
The Interior Ministry spokesman, Mansour Turki said the investigation would look into what caused an unusual mass of pilgrims to congregate at the scene of the disaster..
On Friday 11 September at least 107 people were killed when a crane toppled over at Mecca's Grand Mosque. Saudi Arabia's Civil Defence authority said. At least 238 people were wounded by this accident that occured some two weeks before the annual haj began.
Mina has been the site of multiple deadly accidents over the years.In 2006, a stampede in Jamarat claimed more than 360 lives on the eve of the Haj, and a day earlier an eight-story building near the Grand Mosque collapsed, killing at least 73 people. In 2001, a stampede in Mina killed around 35 people; in 1998, about 180 pilgrims were trampled there after several of them fell off an overpass during the stoning ritual; in 1997, at least 340 pilgrims were killed in a fire in Mina set off by high winds; and in 1994, about 270 were killed in a stampede there.

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