Mina (Saudi Arabia): Saudi Arabia’s health minister Khaled al-Falih has blamed “undisciplined pilgrims” for the stampede at the Haj pilgrimage, saying it could have been avoided if they had “followed instructions.”
If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided," he said, vowing a "rapid and transparent" investigation.
The crown prince, meanwhile, ordered an investigation into the stampede, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who chairs the Saudi Haj committee, ordered the probe during a meeting with senior officials responsible for the pilgrimage in Mina, where the stampede took place. The findings of the investigation will be submitted to King Salman, “who will take appropriate measures” in response, the agency added.
Mr Khaled al-Faleh, however, promised that there would be a rapid and transparent investigation of the stampede.
The stampede began at around 9 am (11.30 IST), shortly after the civil defence service said on Twitter it was dealing with a “crowding” incident in Mina, about five kilometres from Mecca. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had converged on Mina on Thursday to throw pebbles at one of three walls representing Satan, for the last major ritual of the Haj which officially ends on Sunday.
A hospital official said the incident happened outside the Jamarat Bridge structure, where the stoning takes place. A group of pilgrims leaving the area collided with another group that was either moving in the opposite direction or camped outside, the official said.
A Sudanese pilgrim in Mina said this year’s Haj was the most poorly organised of four he had attended.
“People were already dehydrated and fainting before the stampede,” said the pilgrim who declined to be named. People “were tripping all over each other”, he said, adding that a Saudi companion had warned him that “something was going to happen”.
Thursday’s tragedy comes on the heels of another one, in which 108 people were killed when a massive construction crane collapsed on Mecca’s Grand Mosque on September 11 as thousands were gathering for the Haj.