35 pilgrims are crushed to death during symbolic 'stoning' on the road to Mecca

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Religious devotions turned to tragedy yesterday when at least 35 people were crushed to death as a huge crowd stampeded forward to take part in a symbolic stoning of the devil during the annual pilgrimage of the Muslim faithful to Mecca.

Religious devotions turned to tragedy yesterday when at least 35 people were crushed to death as a huge crowd stampeded forward to take part in a symbolic stoning of the devil during the annual pilgrimage of the Muslim faithful to Mecca.

According to the Saudi authorities, 23 women and 12 men of various nationalities either suffocated or were trampled to death on the Jamarat bridge near Islam's holiest city. "It was very crowded and a lot of pushing and shoving was going on," one Turkish pilgrim was quoted as saying. "I knew something was wrong when I saw ambulances but I had no idea so many had died."

In fact, yesterday's tragedy was small by the standards of the almost annual disasters at the ritual attended by up to two million people. Devout Muslims are supposed to perform the annual pilgrimage, or Haj, at least once in their lifetimes. The toll pales the 1,426 pilgrims who died in a stampede in an overcrowded foot tunnel at Mecca in 1990. In 1998 119 people died at Mecca and in 1994, 270.

The pilgrimage has seen bloody political carnage as well, most notably in 1987 when more than 400 people, most of them Iranians staging an anti-American protest, were killed in clashes with Saudi security forces.

This time the Saudi police, aided by helicopters, swiftly brought matters back under control so that hundreds of thousands of pilgrims could complete the devil stoning ritual. In it, men in white robes and women covered from head to foot each throw seven tiny pebbles at three columns of stone.

Once the ritual is completed, the faithful clip or shave their hair before carrying out the ceremonial slaughter of camels, sheep and cows. The meat is then sent to the needy across the Islamic world.

This year the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Britain has cast its shadow. Following the imposition of import and export bans on animals from parts of Western Europe, many pilgrims from Europe were unable to perform the sacrifice.

Comments