Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh has said Thursday’s stampede that killed 717 people at the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca was beyond human control.
The country’s most senior cleric told the interior minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, that he was not to blame for the tragedy.
Iran and several other countries have criticized Saudi authorities for the way they handled safety issues.
It was the deadliest incident to occur during the pilgrimage in 25 years.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia has ordered a safety review.
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 September 25, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
“You are not responsible for what happened,” the grand mufti said, the SPA reported.
“As for the things that humans cannot control, you are not blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable.”
The cleric’s remarks came after Iran’s Supreme National Security Council accused the Saudis of “incompetence” and urged them to “take responsibility” for the deaths.
Iran has so far reported the greatest number of deaths among foreign nationals – 131.
Voices from other countries are also demanding answers from the Saudis, and the king’s promise of an investigation and review has done little to still the clamor for greater accountability.
The crush occurred on September 24 as two million pilgrims were taking part in the Hajj’s last major rite.
The pilgrims throw seven stones at pillars called Jamarat, which stand at the place where Satan is believed to have tempted the Prophet Abraham.
With temperatures around 46C, two massive lines of pilgrims converged on each other at right angles at an intersection close to the five-storey Jamarat Bridge in Mina, a large valley about 3 miles from Mecca.
It is also the second disaster to strike in two weeks, after a crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing 109 people.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia has ordered a safety review for the annual Hajj pilgrimage after at least 717 people died in a stampede near the holy city of Mecca.
Another 863 people were injured in the incident at Mina, which occurred as two million pilgrims were taking part in the Hajj’s last major rite.
It is the deadliest incident to occur during the pilgrimage in 25 years.
King Salman said there was a need “to improve the level of organization and management of movement” of pilgrims.
The crush occurred after two massive lines of pilgrims converged on each other from different direction at an intersection close to the Jamarat Bridge in Mina.
As part of the Hajj, pilgrims travel to Mina, a large valley about 3 miles from Mecca, to throw seven stones at pillars called Jamarat, which represent the devil. The pillars stand where Satan is believed to have tempted the Prophet Abraham.
The crush is the second disaster to strike in two weeks, after a crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing 109 people.
Photo Getty Images
Offering condolences to the relatives of the dead and injured, King Salman said: “We have instructed concerned authorities to review the operations plan and to raise the level of organization and management to ensure that the guests of God perform their rituals in comfort and ease.”
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayyef, who chairs the Hajj committee, has begun an inquiry into the tragedy.
Interior ministry spokesman, Major General Mansour al-Turki, said the reason for the unusual number of pilgrims at the site of the disaster was “not known yet”.
Health Minister Khaled al-Falih promised a “fast” investigation and said the crush occurred “perhaps because some pilgrims moved without following instructions by the relevant authorities”.
Iran has fiercely criticized Saudi Arabia’s handling of the pilgrimage.
Announcing three days of national mourning, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “The Saudi government should accept the responsibility of this sorrowful incident… Mismanagement and improper actions have caused this catastrophe.”
The disaster began at 09:00 local time on September 24.
Gen. Mansour al-Turki said: “The great heat and fatigue of the pilgrims contributed to the large number of victims.”
The temperature in Mina was 46C on September 24.
Photographs showed the bodies of dozens of pilgrims on the ground, some piled high. They were all dressed in the simple white garments worn during the Hajj.
Pope Francis, who is visiting the US, expressed his “sentiments of closeness” with Muslims, during a prayer service at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
More than 700 people taking part in this year’s Hajj pilgrimage have been killed in a stampede near the Islamic holy city of Mecca, officials in Saudi Arabia say.
Besides 717 deaths, other 805 people were injured in the incident at Mina, which occurred as two million pilgrims were taking part in the Hajj’s last major rite.
They converge on Mina to throw stones at pillars representing the devil.
Preparations for the Hajj were marred when a crane collapsed at Mecca’s Grand Mosque this month, killing 109 people.
Mina, a large valley about 3 miles from Mecca, is the location of the three Jamarat pillars and also houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage.
The Saudi civil defense directorate said in a statement that the stampede occurred on September 24 at the junction of Street 204 and Street 223, as pilgrims walked towards the five-story structure which surrounds the pillars, known as the Jamarat Bridge.
The incident happened when there was a “sudden increase” in the number of pilgrims heading towards pillars, the statement said.
This “resulted in a stampede among the pilgrims and the collapse of a large number of them”, it added.
Security personnel and the Saudi Red Crescent were “immediately” deployed to prevent more people heading towards the area, the directorate said.
The hundreds of wounded have been taken to four hospitals in the area.
Amateur video and photographs posted on social media showed the bodies of dozens of pilgrims on the ground. They were all dressed in the simple white garments worn during the Hajj.
The civil defense directorate said the victims were of “different nationalities”, without providing details.
Iran’s state news agency, Irna, said at least 43 Iranians were among the dead.
Many pilgrims from Niger were also killed.
Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV reported that the head of the central Hajj committee, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, had blamed the stampede on “some pilgrims with African nationalities”.
The head of Iran’s Hajj organization, Said Ohadi, told Irna that two routes to the Jamarat pillars had been inexplicably closed off by the Saudi authorities, resulting in the build-up in pilgrims.
Today’s stampede was the deadliest at the Hajj since 2006, when more than 360 pilgrims were killed in the same area.
The Saudi authorities have spent billions of dollars on improving transport and other infrastructure in the area in an attempt to try to prevent such incidents.
The Hajj is the fifth and final pillar of Islam. It is the journey that every able-bodied adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their lives if they can afford it.
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