Stampede death toll continues to rise

  • 25/09/2015
The stampede is one of the worst-ever tragedies at the annual Muslim pilgrimage (Reuters)
The stampede is one of the worst-ever tragedies at the annual Muslim pilgrimage (Reuters)

A huge stampede has killed at least 717 people and injured at least 863 more at the hajj in Saudi Arabia in one of the worst-ever tragedies at the annual Muslim pilgrimage.

The stampede, the second deadly accident to hit the pilgrims this month following a crane collapse in Mecca, broke out in Mina on Thursday (local time) during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual, the Saudi civil defence service said.

Bodies could be seen in piles, surrounded by discarded personal belongings and flattened water bottles.

In some areas rescue workers laid bodies in long rows on stretchers, limbs protruding from beneath white sheets.

The civil defence service said it was still counting the dead, who included pilgrims from different countries, and that at least 863 people had also been hurt.

Nearly two million people from across the globe were attending the hajj, one of the largest annual gatherings in the world.

Iran said at least 90 of its citizens died, and accused Saudi Arabia of safety errors.

But a Saudi minister blamed the pilgrims themselves, saying they had not followed hajj rules.

"Many pilgrims move without respecting the timetables" set for the hajj, Health Minister Khaled al-Falih told El-Ekhbariya television.

"If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided."

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who chairs the kingdom's hajj committee, met senior pilgrimage officials in Mina and ordered an official investigation, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The findings will be submitted to King Salman "who will take appropriate measures", SPA added.

The stampede began at around 9.00am, shortly after the civil defence service said on Twitter it was dealing with a "crowding" incident in Mina, about five kilometres from Mecca.

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.

Interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki said the stampede was caused when "a large number of pilgrims were in motion at the same time" at an intersection of two streets in Mina.

A Sudanese pilgrim in Mina said this year's hajj was the most poorly organised of four he had attended.

"People were already dehydrated and fainting" before the stampede, said the pilgrim who declined to be named.

After the incident helicopters flew overhead and ambulances crowded the streets rushing the injured to hospital, AFP reporters said.

At one facility, a steady stream of ambulances discharged pilgrims on stretchers.

The incident came as the world's 1.5 billion Muslims marked Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, the most important holiday on the Islamic calendar.