News Middle East

Saturday 21 September 2019

Walkway collapse and stampede kill 31 pilgrims taking part in holy ritual

Symbol of grief: Boys lash their own backs at the Ashoura event. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Symbol of grief: Boys lash their own backs at the Ashoura event. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Qassim Abdul-Zahra

Part of a walkway collapsed as tens of thousands celebrated Ashoura yesterday in Iraq, causing a stampede and killing at least 31 pilgrims on one of the most sacred holy days for Shiite Muslims.

Around 100 others were injured in the incident, which occurred towards the end of the Ashoura procession, causing a panicked rush, according to two officials who spoke to reporters from Karbala.

Hundreds of thousands of people converge on the holy city, some 80km south of Baghdad, for the occasion every year.

The sombre day of Ashoura commemorates the killing of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, the Imam Hussein, by a rival Muslim faction in Karbala in present-day Iraq, in 680 AD.

Hussein and his descendants are seen by Shiites as the rightful heirs to the prophet, and Hussein's killing has been attributed with cementing the schism between Shiite and Sunni Islam.

In recent years, Ashoura processions have been attacked by extremist Sunni militants, but yesterday's commemorations were peaceful until the walkway collapsed.

The incident took place during the so-called "Tweireej" run, when tens of thousands of people run towards the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala around noon.

The 2-3km run symbolises when cousins of Imam Hussein's half-brother al-Abbas ran from the nearby village of Tweireej to rescue him, only to find out that he was dead.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of thousands held Ashoura processions amid beefed-up security in Karbala and in the capital, Baghdad, marching through the streets.

Many of the faithful beat their chests and lashed themselves with chains in a symbolic expression of grief and regret for not being able to help Hussein before his martyrdom.

On Sunday night, thousands marched toward the holy shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala, which had been lit up on the eve of the celebration.

Irish Independent

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