MINA: Over 300 Pakistanis are still missing following the stampede in Mina that martyred 769 pilgrims on Thursday – the worst disaster to strike the annual Hajj pilgrimage in 25 years.
The number of Pakistanis martyred in the stampede during Hajj at Mina near the holy city of Makkah has reached 18, however unconfirmed reports suggest the number is higher at 27.
Meanwhile, a British news outlet has claimed the number of Pakistanis martyred in the stampede is ten times higher at 236, however Pakistani officials have denied this claim.
Among the martyrs confirmed on Saturday was a 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 reported casualty was the martyrdom of Tauseef Iftikhar from Rahim Yar Khan. Iftikhar’s family has confirmed his death, and that he was laid to rest in Saudi Arabia.
The Foreign Office on Saturday issued a list of martyrs, which included, 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.
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.