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Pilgrims crushed in Haj stampede
- Four from Hyderabad among victims

Feb. 11: Four Haj pilgrims from Hyderabad, including two women, died today in Saudi Arabia in a stampede at Mina near Mecca during the “Stoning of Satan” ritual.

Altogether 14 pilgrims were trampled to death at 10.30 am local time when a group of Hajis returning to their camp met pilgrims coming the other way.

Another three pilgrims were missing in the crowds who throng to throw pebbles at a pillar representing the devil near Jamarat Bridge, where congestion has caused several accidents in the past, the head of Haj security said.

Chand Bee, 68, and her daughter-in-law Sarwar Fatima, 45, were residents of Vijaynagar colony in Hyderabad. Fatima’s husband, Noor Mohammad, survived the crush.

A Haj committee spokesman in Hyderabad said two other Indians — Halima Bee, 52, and Ahmad Pasha, 47 — succumbed to heart attacks today. Bee, a resident of Yakutpura in the old city, was admitted to hospital last night after suffering the attack and passed away this morning. Pasha, who had been battling for life in hospital since Sunday, too, passed away. He had come for the annual pilgrimage from Moghulpura in the old city.

Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu expressed shock and grief at the deaths and requested the Indian mission in Saudi Arabia to facilitate the last rites.

Noor Mohammad’s son Faisal said his father had no plans of bringing back the bodies of his mother and grandmother. Their funeral would be held in Mecca tomorrow.

The Haj committee spokesman said the four were among 4,000 pilgrims from Andhra Pradesh this year.

Besides the Indians, others killed were four Pakistanis, two Egyptians, an Iranian and a Yemeni. The rest were yet to be identified.

“The stampede took place while pilgrims returning to their camps at 10.30 am local time met pilgrims coming the other way. Some pilgrims fell in the dense crowd,” said Haj security director Brigadier Abdul Aziz Bin Mohammed Bin.

The three-day stoning ritual, which marks the first day of Id-ul-zuha and the last stage of the annual Haj, has been a flashpoint for stampedes over past years.

Last year’s pilgrimage passed off without major incidents, but 35 pilgrims died in a stampede the previous year. In 1998, 118 pilgrims were killed and more than 180 injured, while a similar stampede in 1994 claimed 270 lives.

During the “Stoning of Satan”, pilgrims hurl seven stones every day for three days at three 18-metre high concrete pillars that symbolise devil.

Thousands of policemen, wearing masks against the dust, frantically tried to keep the human traffic flowing today, often in vain. Some police linked arms to try to guide the flow of people heading to and from the bridge, under a scorching sun.

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