Four Pakistanis among 717 pilgrims martyred in Mina stampede
MINA: Four Pakistanis were among the 717 pilgrims martyred on Thursday in a stampede at Mina a few kilometers east of the holy city of Makkah, Saudi authorities said, the worst disaster to strike the annual Haj pilgrimage in 25 years.
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 civil defence said.
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.
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.
Photographs published on the Twitter feed of the Saudi civil defence on Thursday showed pilgrims lying on stretchers while emergency workers in high-visibility jackets lifted them into an ambulance.
Unverified video posted on Twitter showed bodies lying on the ground by the side of the road, surrounded by debris, as pilgrims and rescue workers attempted to revive them.
Jamarat Bridge, the five-storey structure, 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. Reuters reporters in another part of Mina said they could hear police and ambulance sirens, but that roads leading to the site of the disaster had been blocked.
“Work is underway to separate large groups of people and direct pilgrims to alternative routes,” the Saudi Civil Defence said on its Twitter account.
It said more than 220 ambulances and 4,000 rescue workers had been sent to the stampede’s location to help the injured.
Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television channel showed a convoy of ambulances driving through the Mina camp. Some of the wounded were evacuated by helicopters.
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.
More than 100,000 police and thousands of video cameras are also deployed to allow groups to be dispersed before they reach dangerous levels of density.
“Please pilgrims do not push one another. Please leave from the exit and don’t come back by the same route,” an officer kept repeating through a loudspeaker at Jamarat.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed condolence over the tragic incident and directed the ministries of Haj and Foreign Affairs to remain in contact with the Saudi authorities for the well-being of Pakistani Hujjaj.
PML-Q President and former prime minister Ch Shujaat Hussain, senior central leader and former deputy prime minister Ch Pervaiz Elahi and Moonis Elahi also expressed their heartfelt grief over the martyrdom of pilgrims.
In a joint statement, the PML-Q leaders said after the Haram Sharif incident, every faithful was grieved over this incident and Eid happiness had been dampened.
Offering condolences particularly to the families of Pakistani pilgrims martyred in the incident, they said “We equally share your sorrow and pray for eternal rest in peace for the martyred and solace for you.”
JI chief Senator Sirajul Haq expressed profound grief over the tragedy at Mina, leading to martyrdom of hundreds of Hajis and injuries to hundreds of others.
In a statement, he said although the Saudi government was busy improving security arrangements to ensure smooth performance of Haj rites, the large scale deaths caused by stampede at Mina this year were shocking.
He prayed for the salvation of martyrs and for an early recovery of the injured. He also expressed full sympathies with the bereaved families.
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