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24 Sep, 2015 08:24

Mecca stampede: 717 people killed, 863 injured in Hajj crush (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Mecca stampede: 717 people killed, 863 injured in Hajj crush (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

A stampede during the Hajj outside of the holy Muslim city of Mecca has claimed about 717 lives and left 863 pilgrims injured, Saudi Arabia’s Civil Defense Service reported.

220 ambulances and 4,000 rescue workers were deployed in the field for emergency treatment of the victims of the crush.

The crush happened in Mecca’s neighborhood of Mina, which traditionally provides temporary accommodation for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. The ritual of the ‘Stoning of the Devil’ is performed in a valley surrounding the neighborhood on the night before last day of the Hajj.

The stampede happened in a street separating two pilgrim camps, Al Jazeera reported from the scene.

"The street is named Street 204. This stampede did not happen during the Stoning of the Devil ritual, which was happening today," correspondent Basma Atassi said.

Street 204 is one of the two main arteries in Mina leading through the camp at Mina to Jamarat Bridge, where the Stoning of the Devil ritual is performed.

A stampede during the Hajj outside of the holy Muslim city of ...

Great tragedy on a great holiday

Posted by RT Play on Thursday, September 24, 2015

The incident happened near an exit from a monorail train station near the tent camps. The camp sector houses pilgrims from Gulf nations, who apparently are the majority among the victims.

Following the incident, Saudi King Salman ordered an investigation and demanded a review of the kingdom’s plans for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. The comments were made during a speech broadcast by Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Saudi Arabia of mismanagement, calling for three days of mourning after the names of ninety Iranians who died in the stampede were read out in a public broadcast, IRNA news agency reported.

“The government of Saudi Arabia must accept the huge responsibility for this catastrophe,” Khameini said.

The head of Iran’s Hajj organization, Said Ohadi, revealed more details about the catastrophe, saying that for “unknown reasons” two roads had been closed off near the site where the stampede occurred. “This caused this tragic incident,” state television quoted him as saying.

Muslims worldwide are celebrating on Thursday the holy day of Eid al-Adha. An estimated 2 million pilgrims traveled to Mecca for the celebration.

Just two weeks ago over a hundred people were killed in Mecca when a construction crane fell on the crowded Grand Mosque. The worshipers had gathered in the city ahead of this year’s Hajj.

Mina has seen a number of fatal stampedes over the years. In 1990 over 1,400 pilgrims died in a stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel leading out of Mecca towards Mina, one of the most catastrophic of such incidents.

A number of stampedes happened on the Jamarat Bridge. The death of almost 350 pilgrims in 2006 finally prompted Saudi Arabia to conduct reconstruction of the bridge to avoid such tragedies.

The Al-Ma'aisim tunnel stampede is the worst single such incident, although the Thursday tragedy in Mina appears to be the second-deadliest during the Hajj. Other countries have suffered high death tolls over crowd control failures as well.

About 1,000 Shiite believers were killed in Baghdad in 2005 during a stampede at the Al-Aaimmah Bridge over the River Tigris. The crowd of pilgrims was marching toward the Al Kadhimiya Mosque when panic spread over rumors of an imminent suicide bombing attack.

India is infamous for human stampedes during religious festivities. One of the deadliest such incidents happened in 1994 during Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, which claimed some 800 lives. The high number of fatalities was caused by a combination of the River Ganges changing course, reducing the available space for pilgrims, and the heavy presence of politicians using the gathering to campaign among their electors.

In Europe the worst-ever crush, with a recorded death toll of around 1,300, was in Khodynka Field near Moscow in 1896, when the Russian Empire celebrated the crowning of Tsar Nicholas II. Mementoes to the subjects were offered by the royal family, but the authorities utterly failed in their distribution. When rumors spread among the half-million-strong crowd that some of the gifts had been embezzled and a shortage had occurred, the people rushed to the tents to grab whatever was left.

An incident painfully similar to the Khodynka tragedy in both its cause and the resulting public outrage happened in Sunderland, England, in 1883. After a children’s variety show in Victoria Hall, an estimated 1,100 children rushed out to receive promised treats, creating a bottleneck at the exit doors. The crush resulted in the deaths of 183 children.