Muslim pilgrims yesterday reached Mina for the ritual stoning of the devil, the last major rite of the annual hajj and the scene of a devastating stampede last year.
A number of safety measures have been introduced to prevent a repeat of last year’s tragedy, which killed about 2,300 people as they made their way to the Jamarat Bridge to perform the stoning.
The bridge is multi-story to accommodate the huge number of pilgrims — more than 1.8 million this year.
Saudi King Salman on Sunday arrived in Mina to ensure the pilgrims can “perform their rituals easily, conveniently and safely,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
He was also briefed on preparations for the safe movement of pilgrims between Muzdalifah and Mina.
The stoning ritual is performed three times over the coming days.
The first comes at the start of Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, which is marked by more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.
After the stoning, sheep are slaughtered and the meat distributed to needy Muslims, symbolizing Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael on the orders of God, who provided a lamb in the boy’s place at the last moment.
The stoning ritual emulates the actions of Abraham in resisting the temptation to disobey.
Among the new safety measures introduced this year is the distribution of bracelets that store pilgrims’ personal data. Roads have also been widened in the Jamarat area, newspapers reported.
Helicopters have been monitoring the flow of pilgrims, while police have been directing them on the ground to make sure there are no bottlenecks.
Authorities also deployed drones to watch over the pilgrims on Sunday as they descended Mount Arafat.
On foot or seated on the roofs of buses, the faithful climbed down the craggy hills outside Mecca at sunset on Sunday and set out en masse for the open plateau of Muzdalifah.
There they collected pebbles in the dark before retreating for the night into Mina, the narrow city of air-conditioned white tents.
The drones are being used to reinforce a network of electronic surveillance of the crowds that is designed to alert authorities to intervene quickly if necessary.
Pilgrims have told reporters that they feel safe and have noticed organizational improvements.
“The Saudis organize everything for us. We are truly at ease here,” Youssef al-Mehri, 24, from Oman said with a prayer rug slung over his shoulder.
However, the new safety measures adopted by Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia failed to satisfy Shiite Iran, which has angrily questioned the kingdom’s custodianship of Islam’s holiest places.
Iran lost the largest number of dead last year, at 464. Its 64,000 pilgrims were excluded from this year’s hajj for the first time in decades after the two nations failed to agree on security and logistics.
Additional reporting by Reuters
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
AUSTRALIAN SITE: China has had a contract with SSC’s Yatharagga station since at least 2011, but the last time it used it was in June 2013. No final date has been given China would lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Western Australia when its contract expires, the facility’s owners said, a decision that cuts into Beijing’s expanding space exploration and navigational capabilities in the Pacific region. The Swedish Space Corp (SSC) has had a contract allowing Beijing access to the satellite antenna at the station since at least 2011. The station is located next to an SSC satellite station primarily used by the US and its agencies, including NASA. The Swedish state-owned company said it would not enter into any new contracts at the Australian site to support Chinese customers after
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
The scarcity of commercial flights landing at Sydney Airport has been a disaster for airlines and workers, but for hobby pilots the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The quieter-than-usual runways mean that private pilots have been given the chance to land at the international airport for the first time. When Sydney Flight College club captain Tim Lindley put out a call, he received an overwhelming response. He eventually organized for 14 light aircraft to fly into Sydney airport on Sunday. “For a lot of the pilots involved, including myself, it was a childhood dream to land in a big