Thousands of Muslim pilgrims rushing to complete a symbolic stoning ritual during the hajj tripped over luggage yesterday, causing a crush in which at least 345 people were killed, the Interior Ministry said.
The stampede occurred as tens of thousands of pilgrims headed toward
al-Jamarat, a series of three pillars representing the devil that the
faithful pelt with stones to purge themselves of sin. Dr. Abbasi, a Red
Crecent doctor at the scene, said up to 1,000 were injured.
Footage from the scene showed lines of bodies laid out on stretchers on
the pavement and covered with sheets. Ahmed Mustafa, an Egyptian pilgrim,
said he saw bodies taken away in refrigerator trucks.
``There must be dozens of people dead,'' he said.
An Egyptian pilgrim, Suad Abu Hamada, heard screaming and ``saw people
jumping over each other.''
``The bodies were piled up. I couldn't count them, they were too many,''
The site is a notorious bottleneck for the massive crowds that attend the
annual hajj pilgrimage and has seen deadly stampedes in the past,
including one in 1990 that killed 1,426 people and another in February
2004 that killed 244.
The latest crush came despite Saudi attempts to ease the flow of traffic
around al-Jamarat. This year's hajj was marred by the Jan. 5 collapse of a
building being used as a pilgrims' hotel that killed 76 people in Mecca.
The stampede happened as pilgrims were rushing to complete the last of
three days of the stoning ritual before sunset, Interior Ministry
spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, said. Some of the pilgrims began to
trip over dropped luggage, causing a large pileup, he said. Many pilgrims
carry their personal effects with them as they move between the various
stages of the hajj.
Al-Turki said 345 people were killed. State-run Saudi television
Al-Ekhbariyah reported that most of the victims were from South Asia.
The pillars are located on a large pedestrian bridge, the width of an
eight-lane highway over the desert plain of Mina outside the holy city of
Mecca. Four ramps lead up the bridge to give pilgrims access to the site,
and the stampede occurred at the base of one ramp.
Mina General Hospital, a small facility several hundred yards from the
site, was filled with injured, and some victims were sent to hospitals in
Mecca and Riyadh, said Ismail Abdul-Zaher, a doctor at the hospital.
Ambulances and police cars streamed into the area, and security forces
tried to move pilgrims away from part of the site, though thousands
continued with the ritual.
The stampede took place despite Saudi efforts to improve traffic at the
site, where all 2.5 million pilgrims participating in the annual hajj move
from pillar to pillar to throw their stones, then exit.
Saudi authorities replaced the small round pillars with short walls to
allow more people to throw their stones without jostling for position.
They also recently widened the bridge, built extra ramps and increased the
time pilgrims can carry out the rite _ which on the second and final days
traditionally takes place from midday until sunset.
Shiite Muslim clerics have issued religious edicts allowing pilgrims to
start the ritual in the morning, and many Shiites from Iraq, Iran,
Bahrain, Lebanon and Pakistan took advantage to go early in the day.
``This is much better. We are now done with the stoning before the crowd