Mecca stampede: safety review ordered after 717 die

Survivors left 'weeping inconsolably' in the heat after fatal stampede at the annual Hajj pilgrimage

Pilgrims on their way to the 'stoning of the devil' ritual in 2014
(Image credit: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images)

The deaths of 717 people in a stampede near the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia have prompted a safety review of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

The stampede, in which a further 863 people were injured, might have been caused by two waves of pilgrims meeting at an intersection at Mina, according to the kingdom's Interior Ministry. The UK Foreign Office is urgently trying to find out if British nationals were involved.

Pilgrims were taking part in the "stoning of the devil", where they hurl stones at three pillars representing the spot where the devil is said to have appeared.

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Arab News described "terrifying scenes" with corpses "lying in heaps, their skin flayed off their bodies by the crush". Others, who had died from suffocation, showed no visible injuries.

"Survivors sat weeping inconsolably in the 45-degree heat, seeking any shade they could find in the concrete-and-rubble desert, completely traumatised by what they had seen. One old man was clinging to the lifeless body of a relative," said the newspaper.

In an editorial, it noted that the kingdom spends billions of riyals on managing the Hajj but that yesterday's incident "underlined the need for more efforts to bolster safety measures".

It is the worst incident since 1990 when a stampede in a pedestrian tunnel leading from Mecca towards Mina led to the deaths of 1,426 people. Hundreds of others have died since then after being trampled to death.

This morning, Saudi Arabia's King Salman announced the safety review of the five-day pilgrimage to Islam's holiest site, which attracts around two million people from 164 countries each year.

"We have instructed concerned authorities to review the operations plan and to raise the level of organisation and management to ensure that the guests of God perform their rituals in comfort and ease," he said.

The latest fatal crush comes less than a fortnight after 107 people were killed and 200 were injured at the Grand Mosque in Mecca when a crane collapsed in a thunderstorm on 11 September. Saudi authorities announced that the annual Hajj would go ahead despite the accident.

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