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Saudi hajj disaster over 1 360 killed

09 October 2015, 08:57

Dubai - A crush and stampede last month outside of Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca killed at least 1 364 people during the annual hajj pilgrimage to the kingdom, an Associated Press count showed Thursday, nearly 600 more than the official death toll.

The AP count of dead from the disaster - the worst tragedy to strike the hajj in a quarter-century - is based on tolls offered by 18 countries through their officials or state media broadcasts. The tolls are said to only include those killed in the disaster at Mina, near Mecca.

That puts the September 24 tragedy, with hundreds still reported missing, even closer to the deadliest disaster to ever strike the hajj. A stampede in 1990 killed 1 426 people at an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites in Mecca.

Saudi officials have said their official figure of 769 killed and 934 injured in the Mina disaster remains accurate, though an investigation into its causes is ongoing. Health authorities in the kingdom previously said civil defence officials would be offering any new casualty figures, though no new toll has been released by authorities since September 26.

Also Read: Family mourns pilgrim who fled Boko Haram but died in Haj crush

Authorities have said the Mina crush and stampede happened as two waves of pilgrims converged on a narrow road, causing hundreds of people to suffocate or be trampled to death.

Shi'ite power Iran, the Mideast rival of Sunni Saudi Arabia, has blamed the disaster on the kingdom's "mismanagement." It also accused Riyadh of a cover-up, saying the real death toll exceeds 4 700, without providing evidence to support its claim.

Diplomats in Indonesia, Pakistan and India previously have said Saudi officials gave them around 1 100 photographs of those killed in the Mina disaster. At that time, Saudi officials said the photographs included pilgrims who died of natural causes.

Now, however, recent Indian documents on the disaster refer to at least 2 046 photographs of the dead in Saudi Arabia, though its consular officials say some bodies were photographed multiple times.

Indonesia's religious affairs minister, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, said on Thursday his country's diplomats have seen over 2 000 photos purportedly of dead from the Mina disaster, without elaborating.

Pilgrims remain missing

The AP count of the Mina dead includes totals from 18 of the over 180 countries that sent pilgrims to this year's hajj. Iran said it had 465 pilgrims killed, while Egypt lost 148 and Indonesia 120.

Others include Pakistan with 89; India 81; Mali 70; Nigeria 64; Bangladesh 63; Senegal 54; Benin 51; Cameroon 42; Ethiopia 31; Morocco 27; Algeria 25; Ghana 12; Chad 11; Kenya eight and Turkey with three. Hundreds of pilgrims remain missing, according to these countries.

In previous years, the hajj has drawn more than 3 million pilgrims without any major incidents and Saudi Arabia has spent billions to prepare for the pilgrimage. Able-bodied Muslims are required to perform the five-day pilgrimage once in their lifetime, and each year poses a massive logistical challenge for the kingdom.

The crush and stampede was the second disaster to strike Saudi Arabia around the hajj this year. On September 11, a construction crane crashed into Mecca's Grand Mosque, killing at least 111 people.

- AP


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