Saudis blame haj tragedy on pilgrims ignoring instructions

MORE than 250 Muslim worshippers at the annual haj in Mecca were trampled to death on May 23 because hundreds of thousands of people ignored instructions given to them earlier.

“They were ignoring information and instructions given to them 10 days earlier by haj officers and the media … the people were impossible to control,” a statement from the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Singapore said yesterday.

The crush occurred as hundreds of thousands of people crowded at an enclosure at Mina, where pilgrims hurled stones at three piles of rocks symbolising the devil. Mina is 15 km from the holy city of Mecca.

The statement blamed the pilgrims and said their rush to hurl stones made them hard to control in spite of warnings in several languages through microphones.

It said that many carried their belongings on their backs “worsening the already deplorable situation by falling and stumbling”.

Two hundred and seventy people were killed in the stampede. This figure added to the 559 who had died this year at the haj from meningitis, sunstroke, high blood pressure, heart attacks, cancer and other reasons.

About 1.5 million Muslims joined the haj this year.

The statement said the names of the victims would be published in Saudi news agencies.

Of the identified victims in the stampede, it said there were six Saudis, 11 Egyptians and six Algerians.

There were also five Turks, 18 Indians, six Bangladeshis, 44 Pakistanis and six Indonesians.

Other identified victims included one each from Afghanistan, Holland, Mauritius and Denmark. The statement said that 143 people had yet to be identified.

This was not the worst incident to afflict the haj. In 1990, 1,426 people were killed in a stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel leading from Mecca to Mina.

That crush was touched off by the fall of seven people from an overhead bridge, which spread terror among pilgrims below.

The Saudi authorities have since spent millions of dollars on additional tunnels, overhead passes and wider roads. It has also imposed quotas on Muslim countries to limit the number of pilgrims and ease overcrowding.

“The Saudi government has spent millions of dollars to facilitate the comfort of the pilgrims,” the statement said.

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