DUBAI: The death toll in a crush at the annual Haj pilgrimage outside Makkah rose to 769, Saudi Arabia said on Saturday, as arch-rival Iran said Saudi officials should be tried in an international court for what it called a crime.
The worst disaster to befall the Islamic event in a quarter of a century occurred on Thursday as two large groups of pilgrims arrived together at a crossroads in Mina, a few kilometres outside the holy city.
“The latest statistics up to this hour reveal 769 dead. That is an increase of 52 on the previous figures,” Saudi health minister Khalid al-Falih told a news conference.
“Those are the ones who died in various hospitals since the event,” he said, adding that 934 people were wounded.
Iran, which is locked in a series of proxy wars in Arab countries around the Saudi kingdom, says that at least 136 Iranians are among the dead, sparking protests and outrage in the Islamic Republic on Friday.
Over 300 other Iranians remain unaccounted for, including former ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi, Fars news agency reported.
“We will urge international courts and circles to start the trial of the Saudis for their crimes against Haj pilgrims,” Iran’s Prosecutor General Ebrahim Raisi was quoted as saying by student news agency ISNA on Saturday
“This is not incompetence, it’s a crime,” Raisi told state broadcaster IRIB.
Protecting the visitors to mosques at the holy cities of Makkah and Madina is a key pillar of legitimacy for the Saudi royal family, and the king has the title of “custodian of the two shrines.”
Speaking to the country’s crown prince Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, top Saudi cleric Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh said he did not hold authorities responsible for the disaster.
“You are not responsible for what happened. You dealt with the beneficial factors that were in your hands and within your ability. As for the things that humans cannot control, you cannot be blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable,” Al al-Sheikh, known as the Grand Mufti, said in a televised statement.
The number of Pakistanis martyred in a stampede during Hajj at Mina near the holy city of Makkah has reached 11, officials and relatives told Geo News on Saturday.
Among the martyrdoms to be confirmed today was that of six-year-old Samreen Bibi Haji Muhammad, a resident of Multan, who had traveled with her family to Makkah to perform the holy Hajj pilgrimage. Samreen’s father worked as a taxi-driver in Makkah.
Another casualty confirmed today was that of martyr Tauseef Iftikhar from Rahim Yar Khan. Iftikhar’s family has confirmed his death and that he has been laid to rest in Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Office has issued a list of names confirming the martyrdom of nine other Pakistanis in the stampede.
Hafsa Shoaib, Zareen Nasim, Syeda Narjis Shahnaz, Bibi Zainab, Mahmood Arshad, Rasheedan Bibi, Zahid Gul, Dr. Ameer Ali Lashari and Makhdoomzada Syed Asad Murtaza Gillani, who was the nephew of former Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani.
Officials further told Geo News that authorities are yet to trace over 300 Pakistanis who had gone missing after the stampede that martyred 717 pilgrims on Thursday – the worst disaster to strike the annual Hajj pilgrimage in 25 years.
At least 863 others were injured in the stampede caused by two large groups of pilgrims arriving together at a crossroads on their way to performing the “stoning the devil” ritual at Jamarat.
Saudi authorities have released the photos of 500 martyrs of the tragedy and forwarded them to the concerned missions of the countries that the pilgrims belonged to.
‘Accident could have been avoided’
Saudi Health Minister Khaled al-Falih blamed undisciplined pilgrims for the deadly stampede, saying the tragedy would not have occurred if they “had followed instructions”.
Khaled al-Falih was quoted by El-Ekhbariya television as saying “many pilgrims move without respecting the timetables” established by authorities, which was the principal reason for this type of accident.
“If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided.”
The health minister promised that there would be a rapid and transparent investigation into the stampede.
The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV reported that the head of the Central Haj Committee Prince Khaled, had blamed the stampede on “some pilgrims with African nationalities.”
The crown prince ordered an investigation into the stampede during a meeting with senior officials responsible for the pilgrimage in Mina.
The findings of investigation will be submitted to King Salman, who will take appropriate measures in response.
Nayef said the accident would not affect this year’s pilgrimage and that the safety of pilgrims was a priority.
Worst disaster since 1990
Thursday’s disaster was the worst to befall the pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims died in a tunnel near Makkah. Both stampedes occurred on Eidul Azha — Islam’s most important feast.
Jamarat Bridge, the five-storey structure where the incident took place, cost more than $1 billion to build.
Almost one kilometer (less than a mile) long, it resembles a parking garage and allows 300,000 pilgrims an hour to carry out the ritual.
The faithful had gathered until dawn Thursday at nearby Muzdalifah where they chose their pebbles and stored them in empty water bottles.
Jamarat Street 204, where the stampede occurred, is one of the two main arteries leading through the camp at Mina to Jamarat, the site where pilgrims ritually stone the devil by hurling pebbles at three large pillars.
In 2006, at least 346 pilgrims died in a stampede at Jamarat.
Efforts to improve safety at Jamarat have included enlarging the three pillars and constructing a three-decker bridge around them to increase the area and number of entry and exit points for pilgrims to perform the ritual.
Deaths reported so far by nationality
- Iran: at least 134
- Morocco: 87 (media reports)
- Cameroon: at least 20
- Niger: at least 19
- India: 18
- Egypt: 14
- Pakistan: 11
- Chad: 11
- Somalia: 8 (media reports)
- Senegal: 5
- Algeria: 4
- Tanzania: 4
- Turkey: 4
- Indonesia: 3
- Kenya: 3
- Nigeria: 3
- Netherlands: 1
- Burundi: 1
- Other nationalities (numbers not yet known): Benin
Saudi helplines: 00966 125458000 and 00966 125496000