SAUDI ARABIA, September 24, 2015– On one of the holiest holidays in the Muslim culture, the first day of Eid al-adha, at least 700 Muslim pilgrims were killed by fellow pilgrims in a stampede. At least another 800 were injured. The event took place around 9 AM during the ritual known as “stoning the devil” in the tent city of Mina when millions of Muslims were making their pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca two miles away.
The Saudi Arabian government reportedly laid blame on the pilgrims.
In a statement, Saudi Arabian health minister Khalid al-Falih said the stampede was “possibly caused by the movement of some pilgrims who didn’t follow the guidelines and instructions issued by the responsible authorities.”
The Iranian government has placed blame on Saudi officials. 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 the 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.
“Today’s incident shows mismanagement and lack of serious attention to the safety of pilgrims,” said Ohadi. “There is no other explanation. The Saudi officials should be held accountable.”
Losing one’s life during the Hajj season is considered by many devout Muslims as an entry to heaven. On social media, many Muslims referred to the dead as martyrs.
A computerized crowd control system was installed by a British company in the wake of a previous major tragedy, which occurred in 2006, but did not cover the Mecca area.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Naye chairs the Saudi hajj committee. He has ordered an investigation into the incident.
The pilgrimage to Mecca is the largest human migration on the planet. Thursday’s incident was the most deadly in 25 years. In 1990, more than 1,400 Muslims died in a tunnel stampede which drew criticism from Muslim countries around the world aimed at Saudi Arabia.