Monday 5 December 2016

Death toll in Mecca stampede rises to 717 pilgrims

David Kearns

Published 24/09/2015 | 09:50

A Muslim pilgrim mourns following stampede during the annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia Credit: Stringer
A Muslim pilgrim mourns following stampede during the annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia Credit: Stringer
Civil defence rescue teams evacuate victims of the hajj stampede that killed more than 200 people and wounded hundreds in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia Credit: Directorate of the Saudi Civil Defence (Getty Images)

At least 717 pilgrims have been killed in a stampede in Mecca as millions of Muslims travel to Saudi Arabia as part of the annual hajj pilgrimage.

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The stampede reportedly broke out in Mina located in the neighborhood of Mecca in Makkah Province, in western Saudi Arabia.

At least 717 hajj pilgrims were killed and 805 reportedly injured, reports Saudi news source Al Arabiya which quotes a Saudi Civil Defence source on the situation.

Reuters is also confirming the deaths, citing reports by Saudi Arabia's al-Ekhbariya television channel.

Members of Saudi civil defense trying to rescue pilgrims following the crush Credit: Directorate of the Saudi Civil Defence (Getty Images)
Members of Saudi civil defense trying to rescue pilgrims following the crush Credit: Directorate of the Saudi Civil Defence (Getty Images)
The death toll from the crush of pilgrims on Thursday during the annual Muslim haj in Saudi Arabia has risen to 310, the Saudi civil defence said Credit: Directorate of the Saudi Civil Defence (Getty Images)

The pilgrimage, the world's largest annual gathering of people, has been the scene of deadly disasters in the past, including stampedes, tent fires and riots.

The last major incident in haj took place in 2006, when at least 346 pilgrims were killed as they attempted to perform the stoning of the devil at Jamarat.

Saudi ambulances arrive with pilgrims who were injured in a stampede at an emergency hospital in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca Credit: MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH
Saudi ambulances arrive with pilgrims who were injured in a stampede at an emergency hospital in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca Credit: MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH

However, massive infrastructure upgrades and extensive spending on crowd control technology over the past two decades had made such events far less common.

Street 204 is one of the two main arteries leading through the camp at Mina to Jamarat, where pilgrims ritually stone the devil by hurling pebbles at three large pillars.

Muslim pilgrims perform prayers in Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca Credit: Ahmad Masood
Muslim pilgrims perform prayers in Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca Credit: Ahmad Masood

Reuters reporters in another part of Mina said they could hear police and ambulance sirens, but that roads leading to the site of the disaster had been blocked to prevent a further crowds developing.

It said more than 220 ambulances and 4,000 rescue workers had been sent to the stampede's location to help the wounded. Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television channel showed a convoy of ambulances driving through the Mina camp.

Muslim pilgrims walk on roads as they head to cast stones at pillars symbolizing Satan during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mina Credit: Ahmad Masood
Muslim pilgrims walk on roads as they head to cast stones at pillars symbolizing Satan during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mina Credit: Ahmad Masood

"Work is underway to separate large groups of people and direct pilgrims to alternative routes," the Saudi Civil Defence said on its Twitter account.

Thursday is also Eid al-Adha, when Muslims slaughter a sheep. It has traditionally been the most dangerous day of hajj because vast numbers of pilgrims attempt to perform rituals at the same time in a single location.

Muslim pilgrims perform prayers in Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca Credit: Ahmad Masood
Muslim pilgrims perform prayers in Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca Credit: Ahmad Masood

The deaths come two weeks after at least 111 pilgrims were killed when a giant construction crane collapsed on the roof of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Saudi Arabia has partly blamed the construction giant Saudi Binladin Group for the collapse of a crane.

The crash came just days before millions arrive in the kingdom for the pilgrimage, which is required at least once in the life of every able-bodied Muslim.

Such disasters are politically sensitive for the kingdom's ruling Al Saud dynasty, which presents itself internationally as the guardians of orthodox Islam and custodians of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina.

King Salman, like his predecessors, is officially styled "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques".

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