Iran’s Supreme Leader demands apology from Saudi Arabia over deadly Mecca crush

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei © Caren Firouz
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, says Saudi Arabia should apologize for the deadly crush in Mecca that killed 769 worshippers who were taking part in the hajj pilgrimage.

The announcement was made on Khamenei’s website on Sunday.

“This issue will not be forgotten and the nations will seriously follow it and the Saudis, instead of shifting blame onto others and incriminating this or that, must accept their responsibility and apologize to the Islamic Ummah and their bereaved families,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said.

“The Muslim world has many questions and the deaths of more than 1,000 people in this incident is not a minor issue; therefore, the Muslim world must think of a remedy to this issue,” Khamenei added.

Tehran says at least 144 Iranians were killed during Thursday’s stampede, while over 300 others are unaccounted for, including the country's former ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, Fars news agency reported.

Iran believes the death toll from the tragedy could exceed 1,000.

Tehran has summoned the Saudi charge d'affairs three times to ask Riyadh for more cooperation over the incident.

"The reports show that Saudis are responsible for this incident by their mismanagement and negligence," Ali Larijani, the Iranian parliament speaker, was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.

‘Heartrending incident’

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani demanded that an investigation into crush should take place, while speaking at the United Nations on Saturday. He called the catastrophe a “heartrending incident.”

His comments came after Saudi Arabia’s chief cleric, grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah Al-Sheikh sought to clear Riyadh of any blame for the tragedy in Mecca.

“As for the things that humans cannot control, you are not blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable,” he is reported to have told the interior minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, during a meeting on Friday.

The dispute between Tehran and Riyadh comes as the two countries are locked in a bitter power struggle for control in the region, which has seen a Saudi-led coalition bomb Iran-allied Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Iranian news agency Tasnim depicted King Salman of Saudi Arabia as a camel trampling the pilgrims under its hooves, while the Kayhan newspaper showed the king shaking hands with one of the pillars symbolizing the devil in the hajj's stoning ritual.

However, the Saudi publication AsSharq al-Awsat appeared to lay the blame on Iranian pilgrims for the catastrophe, saying that a group of 300 Iranian worshipers had set off too early and this had led to a collision with other pilgrims.

The Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, who is also in New York for the UN General Assembly meeting, even accused Iran of trying to exploit the tragedy for political purposes.

"This is not a situation with which to play politics," he said, as cited by Reuters. "I would hope that the Iranian leaders would be more sensible and more thoughtful with regards to those who perished in this tragedy and wait until we see the results of the investigation."

The disaster on Thursday took place when two large groups of pilgrims collided at a crossroads in Mina, a few kilometers east of Mecca, on their way to performing the "stoning of the devil" ritual at Jamarat.

Meanwhile, Iran’s calls for an apology have been echoed by Britain’s leading Muslim society, who called on the Saudi’s to launch an “open” and “transparent” investigation.

“Obviously we all want answers. We all need to know why this happened. There just needs to be a clear, transparent analysis of what went wrong,” Khalid Anis, who sits on the board of the Islamic Society of Britain, told the Press Association.