Hundreds killed in haj stampede in Saudi Arabia

At least 717 pilgrims from around the world were killed on September 24 in a crush outside the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi authorities said, in the worst disaster to strike the annual haj pilgrimage for 25 years.

At least 863 others were injured. Saudi King Salman said he had ordered a review of haj plans after the disaster, in which two large groups of pilgrims arrived together at a crossroads in Mina, a few kilometers east of Mecca, on their way to performing the "stoning of the devil" ritual at Jamarat.

Disaster on September 24 was the worst to occur at the pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims suffocated in a tunnel near Mecca. Both incidents occurred on Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), Islam's most important feast and the day of the stoning ritual.

Photographs published on the Twitter feed of Saudi civil defense on September 24 showed pilgrims lying on stretchers while emergency workers in high-visibility jackets lifted them into an ambulance.

Other images showed bodies of men in white haj garments piled on top of each other. Some corpses bore visible injuries.

Unverified video posted on Twitter showed pilgrims and rescue workers trying to revive some victims.

The haj, the world's largest annual gathering of people, has been the scene of numerous deadly stampedes, fires and riots in the past, but their frequency has been greatly reduced in recent years as the government spent billions of dollars upgrading and expanding haj infrastructure and crowd control technology.

Safety during haj is a politically sensitive issue for the kingdom's ruling Al Saud dynasty, which presents itself internationally as the guardian of orthodox Islam and custodian of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina.

Reuters