Saudi under fire after hajj stampede kills more than 700

September 28, 2015 8:07 am
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Saudi emergency personnel stand near bodies of Hajj pilgrims at the site where at least 717 were killed and hundreds injured in a stampede in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, at the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia on September 24, 2015/AFP
Saudi emergency personnel stand near bodies of Hajj pilgrims at the site where at least 717 were killed and hundreds injured in a stampede in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, at the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia on September 24, 2015/AFP
MINA, Saudi Arabia, Sep 28 – Blame shifted towards Saudi authorities on Friday after a stampede at the hajj killed at least 717 people, in the worst tragedy to strike the annual Muslim pilgrimage in a quarter-century.

The disaster, which also left several hundred people injured, was the second deadly accident to hit worshippers this month, after a crane collapse in the holy city of Mecca killed more than 100.

At the scene, bodies lay in piles, surrounded by discarded personal belongings and flattened water bottles, while rescue workers laid corpses in long rows on stretchers, limbs protruding from beneath white sheets.

Dark-skinned and light-skinned, they died with arms draped around each other.

“There was no room to manoeuvre,” said Aminu Abubakar, a Nigerian pilgrim who escaped the crush of bodies because he was at the head of the procession.

Fellow pilgrims told him of children dying despite parents’ efforts to save them near the sprawling tent city where they stay.

“They threw them on rooftops, mostly tent-tops… Most of them couldn’t make it.”

The stampede broke out in Mina, about five kilometres (three miles) from Mecca, during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual. The Saudi civil defence service said it was still counting the dead, who included pilgrims from different countries.

Iran said 131 of its nationals were among the victims, and accused regional rival Saudi Arabia of safety errors.

Islamabad said seven Pakistanis were killed.

Pilgrims at the scene blamed the Saudi authorities and said they were afraid to continue the hajj rituals.

But Abubakar, an AFP reporter based in Kano, Nigeria, said that on Friday morning crowd control had improved and the number of pilgrims was much less.

“Now it’s more organised… There’s more control from the entry points. We don’t expect a repeat of what happened,” he said while moving back to the stoning site on the second of three stoning days.

King Salman ordered “a revision” of hajj organisation, the official Saudi Press Agency said, while Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayyef, who chairs the kingdom’s hajj committee, started an inquiry.

Saudi Health Minister Khaled al-Falih blamed worshippers for the tragedy.

He told El-Ekhbariya television that if “the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided”.

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