Mena, Saudi Arabia, Feb. 1 (Reuters): At least 244 Haj pilgrims were crushed to death and the same number injured in a human tide during a devil-stoning ritual at the climax of the annual pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia today.
“There were 244 pilgrims who died in the incident in Jamarat and 244 who were injured,” pilgrimage affairs and endowments minister Iyad bin Amin Madani told reporters without giving a breakdown of nationalities.
The disaster happened as two million pilgrims, wrapped in white robes, flocked to Jamarat Bridge in Mena to throw stones at pillars representing the devil on the Id feast day of sacrifice.
Madani said a huge number of pilgrims had opted to perform the ritual at the same time although the kingdom had been encouraging them to stagger times to prevent a stampede.
“There was more than 400 metres of people pushing in the same direction (which) resulted in the collapse of those next to the stoning area...and those behind. That led to panic,” he said.
Most of the victims were not part of organised Haj trips and several had been carrying personal belongings which had caused obstructions, he said.
Madani said another 272 pilgrims had died of natural causes during the Haj, which all able-bodied Muslims must perform once in a lifetime if they can afford it.
He said movement to Jamarat Bridge was well controlled between midnight and 8.30 am (5.30 GMT) today before the crush. “I assure you that all the preparations are always made, but we don’t always know God’s intentions,” he said.
In 1990, 1,426 pilgrims were crushed to death in a pedestrian tunnel in Mecca. Last year, 14 people were trampled to death. In 2001, 35 people died in a stampede at the bridge and 119 were killed in a similar incident in 1998. The Haj has also seen armed uprisings and bombings.
Mena is on the pilgrimage route from Mecca in western Saudi Arabia.
Victim from Calcutta
Mohammed Mohiuddin from Calcutta is among the three Indian pilgrims who died in the stampede. Others have been identified as Mohammed Ali (40) from Kerala and Gulam Mohammed Mir (40) from Jammu and Kashmir. A control room is in operation at Haj House in Mumbai. The phone numbers are (022) 226 12989, 226 70183.