Saudi suggests pilgrims at fault over haj deaths, Iran indignant

Two giant waves of Muslim pilgrims collided at an intersection Thursday on the outskirts of Mecca, killing at least 719 people and injuring 863.


Shiite powerhouse Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, has said Riyadh is to blame for the disaster because of its alleged mismanagement of the pilgrimage, which annually draws hundreds of thousands of people.

The street where the incident took place is about 12 meters (36 feet) wide and lined with barricades, behind which are tents of hajj tour groups.

This is coming on the heels of the September 11 Makkah crane collapse which claimed 111 lives, including six Nigerians and 331 injured, according Saudi official release.

But after 251 people were killed in a stampede in February 2004, the pillars were remodelled as walls, making them easier for the crowd to flow around.

Dark-skinned and light-skinned, they died with arms draped around each other. “These people deserve compensation”. He also said the haj should be placed under the authority of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

“There was no room to manoeuvre”, said Aminu Abubakar, an AFP correspondent who was among the pilgrims. Four others are yet to be identified. Official figures released on Thursday said 1,952,817 pilgrims had performed the ritual this year, including nearly 1.4 million foreigners.

Photographs published on the Twitter feed of the Saudi civil defense on Thursday showed pilgrims lying on stretchers while emergency workers in high-visibility jackets lifted them into an ambulance.

“The Saudi war in Yemen, and the fact that the Saudi leadership is entirely focused on that conflict, is not unrelated to this accident”, he said.

The probe continues, and the Iranian government is demanding to be a part of it.

The Hajj had been largely incident-free for the past decade as a result of a series of safety improvements made by the Saudi authorities. They said rescuers arrived two hours after the incident and started collecting dead bodies first instead of helping the injured.

Iran also demanded for an global supervision of Hajj, which has been rejected by the Saudi authorities.

In Lebanon, meanwhile, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the Saudi government bears responsibility for the deadly stampede.

The Saudi Arabian health minister blamed the pilgrims for the tragedy, but worshippers disagreed.

Iran confirmed the death of 131 of its nationals in the stampede. Kashani suggested that these issues be raised at the next OIC meeting and “the management of hajj be put under this organization”.

Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam wrote to Saudi King Salman to convey his condolences.

In a statement Iyad Madani, the secretary-general of the 57-nation OIC, hoped that “no party would seek to take advantage” of the pilgrimage to “divide rather than unite”. He previously served as the kingdom’s hajj minister.

Saudi Interior Ministry’s security spokesman Maj.

And the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted criticism of his Saudi counterparts.


Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Saudi authorities have come under increasing criticism over the deadly stampede near Mecca on Thursday  Ozkan Bilgin  Anadolu Agency  Getty Images