Hajj stampede: Death toll rises to over 700
As per the Saudi officials, the death toll in the stampede at the annual Hajj pilgrimage has risen to 717, with over 800 people injured. Saudi Arabia's civil defense directorate said teams were leading pilgrims to safety and that rescue operations were in action. Around 4,000 rescue workers and 220 ambulances were deployed in the field for emergency treatment of the victims.
Significance of Hajj
Known as the fifth pillar of Islam, Hajj is an obligation upon every Muslim who has the financial means and the physical ability to perform it. Conducted over five days, it includes rituals like circling the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, surrounded by Mecca's Grand Mosque; and the symbolic stoning. Date of Hajj is determined by Islamic calendar. This year it is from Sep 22-26.
Stampede at Hajj
As per the initial reports, a stampede during one of the last rituals of the Hajj season killed more than 400 people and injured 717 others in Saudi Arabia. The stampede occurred Thursday morning during the ritual known as "stoning the devil" in the tent city of Mina. Mina is a large valley situated about 3 miles from the Islamic holy city of Mecca.
Stoning of the devil is the the last major rite of the Hajj pilgrimage, where pebbles are thrown against three stone pillars at Mina. It is believed to be where the devil was stoned when it tried to dissuade Abraham from obeying God's orders to slaughter his son.
Stampede is the second tragedy within a month
Hajj stampede is the second major tragedy at Mecca within a month after over 100 people were killed on September 12, when a construction crane crashed on the Grand Mosque. It was said that "strong sandstorm, winds and torrential rains" were the reasons for the crash. Saudi Binladin Group, in-charge of the project was suspended from taking on new projects until full-investigation was completed.
Saudi Binladin group
The Saudi Binladin Group, a construction conglomerate was founded more than 80 years ago by the father of late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It is now run by Osama's brother Bakr.
Reason for stampede
The Saudi civil defense directorate said the crush happened in the morning when pilgrims surged at an intersection of two streets, as worshipers headed toward a five-story structure known as Jamarat Bridge. A "sudden increase" in pilgrims heading towards the pillars in Mina, "resulted in a stampede among the pilgrims and the collapse of a large number of them", the directorate's statement said.
Previous tragedies at Mecca
Mecca is no stranger to tragedies, especially during the Hajj season. One of the most recent disasters occurred on 12 Jan 2006. At least 340 people were killed and 290 injured in the stampede where a deadly crush of pilgrims rushed to carry out the devil-stoning ritual in Mina. Other incidents include stampedes at the devil-stoning ritual in 2004, 2003 and 2001.
2 Indians reportedly killed in stampede
Reportedly, two Indians are among the 717 pilgrims who died in the stampede. More than 1.5 lakh Indians are among over two million pilgrims performing Haj in Mecca this year.