Hours after a stampede in Mina killed more than 700 pilgrims, fingers have been pointed at Saudi authorities who were blamed for the second major tragedy to hit this season’s hajj.
“They don’t have a clue how to engage with these people,” Irfan al-Alawi, co-founder of the Makkah-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Friday, September 25.
“There’s no crowd control.”
On Thursday, at least 717 pilgrims died and 805 injured in a stampede outside Makkah, in the worst disaster to strike pilgrimage in 25 years.
The stampede began at around 9:00 am (0600 GMT), shortly after the civil defense service said on Twitter it was dealing with a “crowding” incident in Mina, about five kilometers (three miles) from Makkah.
Interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki said the stampede was caused when “a large number of pilgrims were in motion at the same time” at an intersection of two streets in Mina.
“The great heat and fatigue of the pilgrims contributed to the large number of victims,” he said.
Thursday’s disaster was the worst to befall the pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims were crushed to death in a tunnel near Makkah.
King Salman ordered “a revision” of hajj organization, the official Saudi Press Agency said, while Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayyef, who chairs the kingdom’s hajj committee, started an inquiry.
“We have instructed concerned authorities to review the operations plan … [and] to raise the level of organization and management to ensure that the guests of God perform their rituals in comfort and ease,” Salman said.
Saudi Health Minister Khaled al-Falih blamed worshippers for the tragedy, telling El-Ekhbariya television that if “the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided.”
Mohammed Jafari, an adviser to Hajj and Umrah Travel, the first hajj tour operator in the UK, claimed the alleged road closures were a contributory factor to the crush.
“The Saudis say after every disaster ‘it is God’s will’. It is not God’s will – it is man’s incompetence,” Jafari told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
“Talking to pilgrims on the ground yesterday, the main reason for this accident was that the king, in his palace in Mina, was receiving dignitaries and for this reason they closed two entrances to where the stoning happened … these were the two roads where people were not able to proceed.
“You have a stream of people going in and if you stop that stream, and the population builds up, eventually there is going to be an accident.
“It is the fault of the Saudi government because any time a prince comes along, they close the roads, they don’t think about the disaster waiting to happen.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blamed the Saudi government for the disaster.
“The Saudi government should accept its responsibility in this bitter incident. We should not overlook that mismanagement and inappropriate conducts caused this disaster,” he said in a statement.
The Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, who leads the world’s most populous Muslim nation, said “there must be improvements in the management of the hajj so that this incident is not repeated”.
The disaster came as the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims marked `Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, the most important holiday on the Islamic calendar.
It was the second major accident this year for hajj pilgrims, after a construction crane collapsed on September 11 at Makkah’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, killing 109 people and injuring more than 400. ONISLAM