At least 719 people have been hurt in a stampede outside the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia during the pilgrimage in the deadliest incident in 25 years
• At least 453 pilgrims killed on Eid al-Adha
• At least 719 injured outside the holy city of Mecca
• Two million people perform the Hajj pilgrimage
• Thursday is also the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha
• Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of safety errors after 43 citizens die
At least 453 pilgrims were killed on Thursday in a crush at Mina, outside the Muslim holy city of Mecca, where some two million people are performing the annual hajj pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia‘s civil defence authority said.
At least 719 others were injured in the crush, which took place on Street 204 of the camp city at Mina, a few miles east of Mecca, where pilgrims stay for several days during the climax of the hajj.
It is the worst incident since 1990 when 1,426 were killed in a stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel leading out from Mecca towards Mina and the Plains of Arafat.
The pilgrimage, one of 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 counting (of the victims) continues and the number of dead has reached 310 people of different nationalities,” it said on Twitter after the incident.
An Arab pilgrim who did not want to give his name said he had hoped to perform the stoning ritual later on Thursday afternoon but was now too frightened to risk doing so.
“I am very tired already and after this I can’t go. I will wait for the night and if it not resolved, I will see if maybe somebody else can do it on my behalf,” he said.
More than 25,000 Britons go annually for the hajj, according to the British Hajj Delegation. The organisation said on its website that the UK was the first Western non-Muslim country to send a hajj delegation to assist UK citizens.
The Foreign Office said in a statement it was looking into reports. A spokesman said: “We are in contact with local authorities and urgently seeking more information following reports of a crush during the Hajj pilgrimage at Mecca.”
The last major incident in hajj took place in 2006, when at least 346 pilgrims were killed as they attempted to perform the stoning of the devil at Jamarat.
Iran accused Saudi Arabia of safety errors after at least 43 of its citizens died
Said Ohadi, head of Iran’s hajj organisation, accused Saudi Arabia of safety errors after at least 15 of its citizens died.
He said that for “unknown reasons” a path had been closed off near the scene of the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual where the accident later took place.
“This caused this tragic incident,” he said on Iranian state television.
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.
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.
Photographs published on the civil defence Twitter feed showed pilgrims lying on stretchers while emergency workers in high-visibility jackets lifted them into an ambulance.
Photo: Saudi Civil Defence Agency
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.
“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.
Two weeks ago 110 people died in Mecca’s Grand Mosque when a crane working on an expansion project collapsed during a storm and toppled off the roof into the main courtyard, crushing pilgrims underneath.
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.