Hajj stampede: British families wait for news as Muslim leaders call for safety training

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not yet confirmed whether any British pilgrims were injured or killed in the disaster

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The Independent Online

Families of missing Hajj pilgrims continued an anxious wait for news today as authorities continue to identify more than 700 people killed in a horrifying stampede.

Another 863 travellers were injured when flows of pilgrims collided at a road intersection in Mina in the pilgrimage’s deadliest disaster for 25 years.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has not yet confirmed whether any of the dead are British but around 25,000 people head to Saudi Arabia for Hajj from the UK every year.

Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, said the Government was bolstering its team on the ground as it sought to “urgently gather information about British nationals who may require assistance”.

Staff are “in close contact” with the Saudi authorities and tour operators, and were checking hospitals and other locations.

“I was saddened to hear of the enormous loss of life in Mecca,” Mr Hammond added.

“My thoughts are with families and victims at this difficult time. Such a significant tragedy will affect Muslims across the world who take part in the Hajj pilgrimage."

David Cameron also sent his “thoughts and prayers” to everyone affected.

Devotees had been making their way towards the Jamaraat Bridge, a large structure used by pilgrims to throw stones at three walls as part of the symbolic “stoning of the devil” ritual.

Witnesses reported that authorities had closed several paths in the area, forcing thousands of people on to the same route, while some Saudi officials sought to blame “some pilgrims who didn't follow the guidelines issued”.

Zulfi Karim, of the Bradford Council for Mosques, estimated between 5,000 to 7,000 people from the city were at the event.

He said a woman in her 50s, from Manningham, had died on the pilgrimage but had not been caught up in the stampede.

Kashif Latif, a British pilgrim, said he had passed through the area just hours before the tragedy happened.

Muslim pilgrims and rescuers gather around people who were crushed by overcrowding in Mina, Saudi Arabia during the annual hajj pilgrimage

He was not aware anything had happened until loved ones in the UK began ringing to check if he and his fellow pilgrims were safe, he told BBC Breakfast.

Mr Latif, part of a group of around 300 pilgrims from Britain, described the "sheer volume of people" at the site.

Afterwards, as pilgrims continued journeying to the area, he said there were "security, police, army personnel, sirens going, helicopters above all night".

British Muslim leaders called for Hajj pilgrims to be given safety training before joining the two million people convening on Mecca from around the world.

Habib Malik, director of the Scottish Hajj and Umra Trust, who is himself in Mecca, said the British Government was in a position where it could organise obligatory courses to set an example for other nations.

A medic tends to one of the more than 800 people injured in the stampede

"Train the people who are coming because it's not possible just to rely on one government to manage all that,” he told BBC Radio 5 live.

"I think every country should be playing a role. And should be training their citizens when they come here."

Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told the programme he thought training was an "excellent idea".

Each year pilgrims pay hundreds of thousands of pounds to go on the trip which all believers who can afford it are required to perform once, with people spending between £4,000 and £5,000 for a typical pilgrimage.

Thursday’s tragedy happened as Muslims around the world celebrated the festival of Eid al-Adha, which is known as the Feast of the Sacrifice as it recalls Abraham's willingness to kill his son in obedience to Allah.

The disaster came as Muslims around the world marked Eid al-Adha

Graphic video footage showed streets filled with dead bodies wearing the traditional white garments of Hajj as the injured were treated.

Saudi authorities have introduced successive rounds of safety measures after successive disasters during the Hajj but critics say they do not go far enough.

As well as stampedes, including one that killed more than 1,400 people in 1990, there have been deadly fires, violence and road accidents.

The latest tragedy came just two weeks after a giant construction crane came crashing down on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the focal point of the Hajj.

The FCO urged worried relatives in the UK to contact its switchboard on 020 7008 1500. Anyone in Saudi Arabia can contact the British Embassy on + 966 11 4819 100, or go to the FCO's website or Twitter for information.

Additional reporting by PA