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717 killed in Hajj stampede: Nigerians among & still Counting

At least 717 people were killed, and 863 injured, in a stampede in Mina, in Saudi Arabia, yesterday during the Islamic commemoration of Jamarat, which is the “stoning of the devil” with pebbles.

This has now brought the death toll in Saudi Arabia to 824 as107 persons including six Nigerians died on September 11 when a huge red crane crashed into a part of the Grand Mosque — the largest in the world  that was filled with worshipers at the time. The head of Saudi Arabia’s civil defense said strong winds and heavy rains had caused the collapse.

The Stoning of the Devil is a re-enactment of a story from the Q’uran involving the Prophet Ibrahim, which takes place during the Hajj, a few kilometers away from Mina.

Saudi emergency personnel stand near bodies of Hajj pilgrims at the site where at least 717 were killed and hundreds wounded in a stampede in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, at the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia on September 24, 2015. The stampede, the second deadly accident to strike the pilgrims this year, broke out during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual, the Saudi civil defence service said. AFP PHOTO / STR

Some reports say total number of casualties remained unclear as more than three million pilgrims observing this year’s hajj, who spent the night in the plain fields of Muzdalifa, began trooping to the Jamarat as early as 3 a.m. local time.

Saudi civil defence authorities confirmed the deaths on Twitter and said two medical centres had been opened to treat the injured. More than 4,000 emergency workers were sent to the scene, and hundreds of people were taken to four hospitals, the New York Times reported.

Our correspondent at the scene confirmed that several Nigerian pilgrims also died in the stampede while officials of Nigerian delegation are already taking head counts of Nigerians and will soon come out with the number and identities of those Pilgrims involved.

An anonymous eye witness told that “the stampede started from tents erected close to Jamrah. Pilgrims were not supposed to pass through the tents but they did since there were no officials to stop them and the pandemonium led to a massive stampede at the Jamrah exit points.”

He added that Saudi officials who are saddled with the responsibility of controlling the movement of persons were not around the area at the time of the incident.

According to hm, the exit points to the Jamrah are four. There was an ambulance parked close to one of the entries and another entry had been taken over by disabled persons, but since there were no security officials to direct movement, people became unruly when trying to find a way out, causing the stampede.

One of Nigeria's Vanguard photographer, Lamidi Bamidele, who escaped death by the whiskers confirmed that officials were not around the area when the incident occurred. “I was at the centre of the stampede. Saudi police and traffic officials who used to control movement were not available. In fact it was after the stampede that they arrived. I managed to escape unhurt but not without losing my pair of shoes,” he stated.

Nigerians involved
It was gathered that some Nigerians were among those killed in the stampede. According to a source, “I saw a couple of bodies being moved away and I know they were Nigerians but I cannot confirm the number now. It was not difficult to know the identity of any pilgrim because each pilgrim always wears a band which indicates where he comes from. Authorities are still collating the number of Nigerians killed and injured in the stampede.”

Iran slams Saudi Arabia over Hajj stampede
Meanwhile, Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of safety errors after at least 43 of its citizens died in a stampede that killed hundreds of pilgrims during the pilgrimage. After saying the kingdom was responsible for Thursday’s tragedy, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said Saudi’s envoy to Tehran would be summoned to its foreign ministry.

The head of Iran’s Hajj organisation, Said Ohadi, said that, for “unknown reasons,” two paths had been closed off near the site of a symbolic stoning of the devil ritual where the stampede occurred.

The names of all Iranians killed in the stampede were read out in a sombre live broadcast in Tehran by a spokesman for the Hajj organisation. Saudi’s civil defence service has said at least 717 people were killed and 863 hurt. Ohadi said the path closures had left only three routes to the area where the stoning ceremony was held in Mina, about 5km from Mecca.

Saudi Arabia orders probe into tragic stampede
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has ordered an investigation after the stampede, according to state media. Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, who chairs the Saudi Hajj committee, ordered the probe during a meeting, yesterday, with senior officials responsible for the pilgrimage in Mina, where the stampede took place.

The findings of the investigation will be submitted to King Salman, “who will take appropriate measures”, the Saudi Press agency said. The Saudi Arabian interior ministry says the crush of Muslim pilgrims appears to have been caused by two waves of pilgrims meeting at an intersection.

Ministry spokesman, Major-General Mansour al-Turki said high temperatures and fatigue might also have been factors in the disaster, the deadliest to afflict the Hajj pilgrimage in more than two decades. The Hajj is the fifth and final pillar of Islam. It is the journey that every able-bodied adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their lives if they can afford it.

WCC laments loss of lives in Hajj stampede
General secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, has expressed grief over the loss of lives in Saudi Arabian stampede. In a statement yesterday, he said, “I have just learned with shock and sorrow about the considerable and tragic loss of life among those participating in the Hajj due to the accident that has taken plac in Mina, near Mecca.

My heart goes out to the relatives of those who have died, and to those who have been wounded. I am saddened that people who are seeking to follow with loyalty and fidelity the tenets of their religion in this way should have suffered so grievously,” said the WCC general secretary.

“I offer my prayers for the well-being of the remaining pilgrims during the rest of their time in and near Mecca and then safe travel to their homes,” the secretary general added.

1987: 400 people die as Saudi authorities confront pro-Iranian demonstrators.

*1990: 1,426 pilgrims killed in stampede inside tunnel leading to holy sites

*1994: 270 killed in stampede

*1997: 343 pilgrims killed and 1,500 injured in fire incident

*2006: 364 pilgrims died in a stampede during the stone-throwing ritual

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