Iranians call Hajj stampede deaths ‘a crime’

The Grand Mosque and the Kaaba (centre) in Saudi Arabia's holy Muslim city of Mecca. Picture: AFP/Getty
The Grand Mosque and the Kaaba (centre) in Saudi Arabia's holy Muslim city of Mecca. Picture: AFP/Getty
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IRAN’S state prosecutor says he will pursue legal action against Saudi Arabia’s rulers in international courts over the crush of pilgrims at this year’s Hajj, which killed more than 700 people, including 136
Iranians.

Ebrahim Raisi, speaking on state TV yesterday, called the disaster “a crime” subject to prosecution. He said Saudi authorities blocked a road used by Hajj pilgrims to allow a
royal convoy to pass through, causing the deadly convergence of two waves of pilgrims going in opposite directions.

At least 719 pilgrims suffocated or were trampled to death. Iranians comprise the largest group of casualties identified so far.

Iranian state TV says Ghazanfar Roknabadi, a former ambassador to Lebanon, and two Iranian state TV reporters and a prominent political analyst are among those still missing.

As a former ambassador to Lebanon, a key regional ally of Iran, Roknabadi would have been a senior figure within the Iranian elite, according to Arron­ Merat, an Iran analyst.

The TV report said 136 Iranian pilgrims died and 85 were injured in the incident on Thursday, while 354 Iranian pilgrims remain missing.

Iran has strongly criticised its arch-rival Saudi Arabia over the disaster, blaming the Saudi government for “incompetence” and “mismanagement” of the annual Hajj – which draws about two million pilgrims per year from more than 180 countries.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, in New York for the UN General Assembly, questioned whether the Saudi government could be trusted with the responsibility of overseeing the Hajj. Rouhani told a group of editors on Friday that both the stampede and the recent crane collapse which killed 111 people suggested “ineptitude” on the part of Saudi authorities, and that they could be viewed as “not sufficiently responsible to be hosting” such large groups of people.

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group and a close ally of Iran, said the Saudi government bears the responsibility for the accident. He called for the countries with the most victims, such as Iran and Morocco, to participate in the investigation to ensure that there is no 
cover-up by the Saudis.

The repeated nature of these incidents “means there is malfunction in the administration,” Nasrallah said in an interview on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar channel.

Iranian anger came as the Hajj religious pilgrimage entered its final day yesterday and officials in Saudi Arabia continued to grapple with the aftermath of the disaster.

Saudi Arabia’s most senior cleric, the grand mufti, has said Thursday’s stampede was beyond human control.

He told the interior minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, that he was not to blame for the tragedy.

Grand mufti sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh was visited by the crown prince, who is also deputy prime minister and chairman of the Supreme Hajj Committee, on Friday evening, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

“You are not responsible for what happened,” the grand mufti said.

“As for the things that humans cannot control, you are not blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable.”

Meanwhile, India’s government raised its estimated death toll for Indian citizens from 14 to 18, while Pakistan raised its estimated death toll from eight to 11.

Pilgrims yesterday streamed steadily into Mina’s Jamarat, a multi-storey complex built by the kingdom with crowd-monitoring technology and wide ramps for large crowds to perform the final rites of the Hajj. Muslims believe the devil tried to talk the Prophet Ibrahim, or Abraham as he is known in the Bible, out of submitting to God’s will in Mina. In one of the final steps of the Hajj, pilgrims throw stones at three large pillars here in a symbolic casting away of evil.

Saudi security forces were on hand to spray pilgrims with water to help to keep them cool as temperatures reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38C). Large fans also sprayed water mist to keep the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims performing their Hajj rites from over-heating.

Three Saudi officers from the emergency police force at Jamarat were seen attending to a pilgrim who appeared to have suffered from sunstroke.

Sudanese pilgrim Abdullah al-Muzbahi, 42, stood to the side on one of the floors in Jamarat, with his hands stretched in supplication and prayer, after completing the stoning ritual. He said that from his perspective, this year’s Hajj went smoothly and that Saudi officials appeared to be doing all they could to
safely manage the pilgrimage.

“The problem is in the culture of pilgrims, who are not organised or patient,” he said.

Saudi pilgrim Misfir al-Yami, 28, said the large crowds should be directed better to reach certain holy sites in smaller waves. He said it was the responsibility of the security forces and the pilgrims to ensure the safety of the Hajj.

In the worst Hajj disaster in 25 years, at least 719 people were crushed or trampled to death, while 863 were injured when the two huge waves of pilgrims converged. That followed an accident on 11 September in which a storm toppled a crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Syrian pilgrim Samar Zaki, 37, said she was thankful she was able to perform the Hajj at a young age. She said there were times when she was in a very large crowd and worried for her safety.

“There are times when it is challenging,” she said. “I saw news about the accident that took place and it made us all very upset.”