More than 700 Muslim pilgrims were killed Thursday during a stampede that broke out during the Muslim hajj pilgrimage not far from Mecca.
By early Thursday, officials said 717 people were killed and 863 injured. A similar incident that took place in the same spot in 2006 killed more than 360 people, as well as 244 in 2004. The deadliest hajj disaster came in 1990, when 1,426 people were killed.
In the wake of the disaster, Saeed Ohadi, leader of the Iranian hajj organizing agency, blamed Saudi Arabia for “safety errors” and said that “mismanagement by the Saudis” led to the tragedy.
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Saudi health minister, Khalid al-Falih, blamed undisciplined pilgrims for the tragedy. He said it would not have happened if pilgrims had “followed instructions”.
Thursday’s accident took place in Mina, where pilgrims who came to Mecca perform a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone columns. Officials have worked since the 2006 disaster to revise crowd control procedures in order to reduce the potential for another accident.
Saudi officials said there was a huge surge of pilgrims, leading to hundreds of thousands gathered in one spot. Soon, many were trampled as the crowd grew out of control.
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Video footage posted on social media showed scores of bodies along the route lying amid crushed wheelchairs and water bottles.
Around 2 million people are taking part in this year’s hajj pilgrimage, which is an obligation of every able-bodied Muslim. The deaths took place as Muslims around the world prepared to mark the Eid al-Adha holiday, one of Islam’s holiest days.
Thursday’s disaster came less than two weeks after a giant construction crane came crashing down on the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The Sept. 11 accident killed at least 111 people and injured more than 390.
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