A horrific stampede killed at least 717 pilgrims and injured hundreds more on Thursday on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the deadliest tragedy to strike the annual haj pilgrimage in more than two decades.
At least 863 pilgrims were injured in the crush, said the Saudi civil defence directorate, which provided the death toll. The tragedy struck as Muslims around the world marked the start of the Eid-ul-Zuha holiday.
It was the second major disaster during this year’s haj season, raising questions about the adequacy of measures put in place by Saudi authorities to ensure the safety of the roughly 2 million Muslims taking part. A crane collapse in Mecca nearly two weeks earlier left 111 people dead.
Saudi Arabia takes great pride in its role as the caretaker of Islam’s holiest sites and host to millions of pilgrims annually. But the haj poses an immense logistical and security challenge for the kingdom given the sheer number of hundreds of thousands of people — from differing linguistic and cultural backgrounds, many of whom have saved for years for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — intent on following the same set of rituals at about the same time.
Thursday’s crush happened in Mina, a large valley about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Mecca that has been the site of haj stampedes in years past.
Mina is where pilgrims carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone columns. It also houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage.
As per reports at least 14 Indians too lost their lives during the stampede. Prime Minister Narendra Modi solitude and Tweeted,
“Distressing news from Mecca. Pained at loss of lives due to the stampede. Condolences to families of the deceased & prayers with the injured.”