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Witnesses to Hajj Stampede Describe Its Horrors

BenarNews Staff
2015-09-25
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Muslim pilgrims arrive to throw pebbles at pillars during the Jamarat (Stoning of Satan) ritual in Mina, near Mecca, Sept. 24, 2015.
Muslim pilgrims arrive to throw pebbles at pillars during the Jamarat (Stoning of Satan) ritual in Mina, near Mecca, Sept. 24, 2015.
AFP

People who survived Thursday’s deadly crush near Mecca, where more than 700 Hajj pilgrims lost their lives, expressed shock and anger a day later at what they had witnessed.

"There were layers of bodies, maybe three layers," one witness who asked not to be named told the Reuters news service. "Some people were alive under the pile of bodies and were trying to climb up but in vain, because their strength failed and they dropped dead."

"I felt helpless not to be able to save people. I saw them dying in front of my eyes," he added.

The stampede killed at least 717 pilgrims and injured 863 others, the al-Arabiya network reported, citing figures from Saudi Arabia’s civil defense agency.

The death toll was highest among pilgrims from Iran and Morocco, which lost 131 and 87 citizens, respectively, according to al-Arabiya.

At least 18 Muslims from South and Southeast Asia were also among the dead. Fourteen Indian pilgrims were killed in the crush, along with three Indonesians and a Bangladeshi, according to officials from the three countries.

Indonesian dismay

The stampede was the deadliest incident to mar the Hajj pilgrimage since 1990 and the second deadly mishap at this year’s Hajj.

Eleven Indonesian pilgrims were among 109 people killed on Sept. 11, when a crane collapsed onto the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

“It doesn’t make sense that this could happen again,” former Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Abdul Malik Fadjar told BenarNews.

Based on his experience as a Hajj leader, the potential for stampedes was very high during the Jamarat (Stoning of Satan) ritual, he said.

“The Saudi government should have been able to predict that, and assigned more officers,” said Abdul Malik, who was minister of religion in the era of former president Habibie.

According to news reports, many hundreds of pilgrims have been killed or injured in 10 incidents at the Hajj pilgrimage, including fires and stampedes, dating to December 1975.

Thursday’s disaster was the next deadliest at the Hajj since 1,426 pilgrims died in a stampede inside a tunnel in Mina on July 2, 1990.

Of those, 631 were Indonesian, according to Antara, Indonesia’s state-run news agency.

On Friday, Indonesian lawmaker Saleh Partaonan Daulay complained that, nearly 24 hours after the latest disaster, the Saudi government had yet to give a breakdown of the death toll and the wounded by nationality.

"There should be systematic, scalable and professional efforts by Saudi Hajj organizers to explain to all countries whose citizens became victims, wherever they are from," Saleh, who chairs a parliamentary commission on supervision of the Hajj, told BenarNews by phone from Mina, where the tragedy took place.

By Friday morning (Saudi time), according to Indonesian Hajj officials, some 225 Indonesian pilgrims had not yet returned to their designated tent in Mina. But it was unclear whether those people were victims of the stampede, still worshiping, or visiting acquaintances, the officials said.

Anger and finger-pointing

Meanwhile, pictures of piles of dead bodies were circulating on social media, according to Reuters. One particularly graphic photograph, taken by Agence-France Presse, showed several layers of corpses piled one on top of the other.

"There was no room to maneuver," said Aminu Abubakar, an AFP correspondent who witnessed the disaster.

He managed to escape the human crush because he was at the head of the procession heading to a site in Mina where pilgrims throw pebbles at pillars that symbolize Satan.

According to AFP, fellow pilgrims told Abubakar of children who were dying despite parents' efforts to save them.

"They threw them on rooftops, mostly tent-tops ... Most of them couldn't make it," Abubakar told AFP.

The crush began close to the entrance to the Jamarat Bridge near Street 204, al-Arabiya reported. On Thursday night, Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen, Mansour al-Turki told reporters that the street where the disaster occurred “witnessed [an] unprecedented high number of pilgrims” compared to previous years.

Saudi King Salman has ordered a review of Hajj plans, according to Reuters, but Saudi Arabia continued to draw flak for its alleged mismanagement of the huge-scale pilgrimage.

Officials from the kingdom partly blamed pilgrims on Friday for failing to obey crowd-control instructions.

"The investigations into the incident of the stampede that took place today in Mina, which was perhaps because some pilgrims moved without following instructions by the relevant authorities, will be fast and will be announced as has happened in other incidents," Reuters quoted Saudi Health Minister Khalid al-Falih as saying in a statement.

Kenyan survivor Isaac Saleh, who was part of a group that lost three pilgrims, disagreed.

"I can blame the Saudi government because they did not control (the situation). I was there. I survived," Saleh told AFP.

Arie Firdaus and Rohit Wadhwaney contributed to this report.

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