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Middle East

Hundreds killed in stampede during hajj pilgrimage near Mecca

© AFP/ STR | Rescue workers help the injured after a stempede near Mecca during the annual hajj pilgrimage on September 24.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-09-25

Members of the Saudi royal family called for an inquiry on Thursday after more than 700 people were killed in a stampede at Mina, outside the Muslim holy city of Mecca, during the annual hajj pilgrimage.

At least 717 pilgrims from around the world were killed in the crush, Saudi authorities said, in the worst disaster to strike the annual haj pilgrimage for 25 years. Almost 900 people were injured.

It was not immediately clear what had caused the stampede on Thursday, which marked the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice.

Photographs published on the Twitter feed of Saudi civil defence 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. Unverified video posted on Twitter showed pilgrims and rescue workers trying to revive some victims.

King Salman ordered "a revision of the plans" for hajj organisation so that pilgrims can "carry out their rituals in complete safety", the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who chairs the kingdom's hajj committee, ordered an investigation and King Salman said he wanted the results quickly, SPA reported.

Photos released by the Saudi civil defence directorate showed rescue workers in orange and yellow vests helping the wounded onto stretchers and loading them onto ambulances.

Iran announced that 90 of its nationals were among the dead and accused Saudi Arabia of poor planning.

A Saudi minister said many of those making the pilgrimage had not followed the 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."

Almost two million people were expected to take part in this year's hajj, a pilgrimage all able-bodied Muslims are expected to carry out at least once as a religious duty.

Pilgrims had converged on Mina, five kilometres (three miles) from Mecca, on Thursday to throw pebbles at one of three walls representing Satan, the symbolic "stoning of the devil" that marks the last day of hajj.

Mina also houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage has been marred by numerous stampedes in the past, including one in 1990 that saw more than 1,400 killed.

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.

Though it has been largely incident-free in recent years after safety improvements, a construction crane toppled into a courtyard of Mecca's Grand Mosque during high winds earlier this month, killing more than 100 people.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2015-09-24


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