Hajj disaster: let the blame game begin
Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of serious safety failures after at least 43 of its citizens died in a stampede that killed more than 700 pilgrims today during the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
After saying the kingdom was responsible for the tragedy, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said Saudi’s envoy to Tehran would be summoned to the foreign ministry.
The head of Iran’s Hajj organisation, Said Ohadi, said that, for “unknown reasons”, two paths had been closed off near the site of the stoning of the devil ritual where the stampede occurred.
“This caused this tragic incident”.
The names of all Iranians killed in the stampede were read out in a sombre live broadcast in Tehran by a spokesman for the Hajj organisation.
Saudi’s civil defence service has said at least 717 people were killed and 863 hurt. The death toll is expected to rise.
Ohadi said the path closures had left only three routes to the area where the stoning ceremony was held in Mina, about 5km from Mecca.
As well as the dead, at least 60 Iranians were injured, he said, adding:
Today’s incident shows mismanagement and lack of serious attention to the safety of pilgrims. There is no other explanation. The Saudi officials should be held accountable.
Saudi officials were also accused of “tactlessness” over the lack of safety measures at the Hajj. Said Abdollahian:
We can in no way be indifferent to this irresponsible behaviour of Saudi Arabia. This will be dealt with through diplomatic channels.
Saudi Health Minister Khaled al-Falih has blamed undisciplined pilgrims for the tragedy, saying it could have been avoided if they had “followed instructions”, and, according to this report, the head of the Central Hajj Committee, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, blamed the stampede on “some pilgrims from African nationalities”.
This year’s Hajj season was already overshadowed by a crane accident that killed 107 people and wounded more than 200 earlier on September 11, which led to some saying on social media that this was “karma” for 9/11.
In 2006, more than 360 pilgrims were killed in a stampede, also in Mina. The day before the 2006 Hajj began, an eight-story building being used as a hostel near the Grand Mosque in Mecca collapsed, killing at least 73 people.
Two years earlier, a crush at Mina killed 244 and injured hundreds on the final day of the pilgrimage.
And, in 2001, a stampede at Mina killed 35 people.
The worst hajj-related tragedy, which happened in 1990, killed 1,426 pilgrims in a stampede in an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites in Mecca.