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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hajj stampede death toll rises

The death toll of Hajj stampede near the Islamic holy city of Mecca on Thursday has risen to 769, the deadliest incident to occur during the pilgrimage in 25 years, BBC reported.

As well as the fatalities, 934 people were injured.

The incident occurred at around 6:00 GMT as millions of Muslims were travelling to Mina, a valley which is about 3 miles away from Mecca to throw stones to Jamarat pillars which represent devil which according to Islam tempted Prophet Abraham.

Security has been tightened across Mecca to prevent possible attacks by Jihadist groups and stampedes.

Social media photographs showed hundreds of white-clad bodies piled high on each other as security forces carried wounded victims, some of them crying while other chanted ‘God is great’ into ambulances.

Iran’s supreme National Security Council accused Saudi Arabia of ‘incompetence’ and urged them to ‘take responsibility’ for the deaths, according to the BBC.

The Nigerian government has also dismissed remarks by the Saudi health minister blaming pilgrims for "not following instructions".

Earlier, the country's most senior cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh, defended the authorities, saying the stampede was "beyond human control".

King Salman has ordered a safety review into the disaster.

The disaster is the second to strike in two weeks, after a crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing 109 people.

Saturday was the final day of the Hajj, with no further incidents reported.

Deaths reported so far by nationality

Iran: at least 140

Morocco: 87 (media reports)

Cameroon: at least 20

Niger: at least 19

India: 18

Pakistan: 18

Egypt: 37

Chad: 11

Somalia: 8 (media reports)

Senegal: 5

Algeria: 4

Tanzania: 4

Turkey: 4

Indonesia: 3

Kenya: 3

Nigeria: 3

Netherlands: 1

Burundi: 1

Burkina Faso: 1

Other nationalities (numbers not yet known): Benin

Saudi helplines: 00966 125458000 and 00966 125496000

Thursday, September 24, 2015

310 pilgrims die in stampede on way to Jamrat complex

MINA: Tragedy struck Mina on Thursday morning when more than 310 pilgrims died in a stampede on the way to the Jamrat complex.
Saudi Civil Defense forces said more than 450 were injured. The exact cause of the accident could not be determined easily.
Many of the injured were in semiconscious state. The harsh summer weather has only added to the problem. The injured were not in a position to speak.
Sirens were wailing as the ambulances brought in the injured. Hundreds of Saudi security forces and Haj volunteers are at hand helping the injured.
Most of the injured were taken to Mina Emergency Hospital. Other were also rushed to the hospitals in Makkah.
The Jamrat area, where the pilgrims have to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual, has seen stampedes in the past. But the Saudi authorities have expanded the area by constructing a multilayered complex to ease the flow of pilgrims.
The pilgrims had spent the night in Muzdalifa and had come to Mina to throw seven pea-sized stoned at one of the three wall-like structures.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pilgrims throng Arafat for peak of Haj

Around two million white-clad Muslims on Wednesday poured into the vast Saudi plain where Prophet Muhammad had given his final sermon, for the peak of the Haj pilgrimage.
Many of the faithful from around the globe camped at the foot of Mount Arafat where they slept, exhausted from their journey, and prayed despite the scorching sun.
Carrying colorful umbrellas, they walked from dawn in massive crowds toward the slippery, rocky hill which is also known as Mount Mercy.
It was here that the Prophet gave his final sermon 14 centuries ago after leading his followers on Haj.
To organize the flow of pilgrims, security forces formed human chains along the roads of the vast Arafat plain.
Along the way, volunteers handed out boxes of food and cold water bottles.
For many pilgrims, Haj is the spiritual highlight of their lives.
“We feel blessed. I got goosebumps, a feeling that cannot be explained, when reaching the top of the mountain,” said Ruhaima Emma, a 26-year-old Filipino pilgrim, who said she has been “praying for a good life for everyone.”
For Akram Ghannam, 45, from war-torn Syria, being in Arafat is a “feeling that cannot be described. I pray to God for the victory of all those who are oppressed.”
Many reached Arafat by bus while some walked from the holy city of Makkah about 15 kilometers (nine miles) away.
Other pilgrims arrived from nearby Mina using the elevated Mashair Railway linking the holy sites of Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina, a tent city where many pilgrims spent Tuesday night.
After sunset on Wednesday they will move to Muzdalifah. There they will gather pebbles for a symbolic stoning of the devil ritual on Thursday, which is also the Eid Al-Adha feast of sacrifice marked by the world’s more than 1.5 billion Muslims.

Undeterred by crane accident
This year’s gathering is about the same size as last year’s, with 1.4 million foreign pilgrims joining hundreds of thousands of Saudis and residents of the kingdom.
They are undeterred by a construction crane collapse at the Grand Mosque earlier this month that killed 111 people, including foreign pilgrims.
About 400 people were injured by the crane which was working on an expansion of Islam’s holiest site.
Previously marred by stampedes and fires that killed hundreds, the pilgrimage had been largely incident-free for the past nine years after safety improvements.
The Haj is among the five pillars of Islam and every capable Muslim must perform it at least once in a lifetime.
This year’s gathering takes place against a backdrop of increased extremist violence in some Muslim countries, a surge of the potentially deadly MERS virus and the war in Yemen.
About 100,000 police have been deployed to secure pilgrimage sites and manage the crowds.
Authorities say they are on alert for possible attacks by extremists, after Daesh terrorists bombed security forces and Shiite mosques in the kingdom in recent months.
Among other challenges facing Saudi authorities is potential transmission of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
Riyadh saw a jump in infections last month, but health officials say there has never been a case of MERS infection among pilgrims.
The health ministry has mobilized thousands of medical workers to help ensure a virus-free pilgrimage and to care for routine ailments.
Pilgrims began the Haj on Tuesday by entering ihram, a state of purity in which they must not quarrel, wear perfume, or cut their nails or hair.
During ihram, men wear a seamless two-piece shroud-like white garment, while women must wear loose dresses, generally also white, exposing only their faces and hands.
The clothing emphasizes their unity, regardless of whether they spend the Haj in Makkah’s five-star hotels or in shabby highrise hostels.
“I’m hoping for mercy and that Allah accepts our prayers,” said Pakistani pilgrim Abdeghafour Abu Bakr, 38, who came with friends.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Civil Defense chief: high winds toppled Makkah crane

Civil Defense Director General Suleiman bin Abdullah Al-Amro said high winds caused a massive crane to topple over and smash into the Grand Mosque in Makkah, killing at least 107 people ahead of the start of the annual Haj pilgrimage.
Al-Amro told Al-Arabiya TV on Saturday that unusually powerful winds in the area also tore down trees and signs as a storm whipped through the area.
He denied reports that lightning brought down the red-and-white crane or that some of those killed died in a stampede.
The civil defense directorate says 238 people were injured in the accident late Friday afternoon at the mosque, which houses the cube-shaped Kaaba and is ringed by several cranes engaged in ongoing construction work to expand the site.
An engineer for Saudi Binladin Group, the company contracted to do the Grand Mosque expansion project, said it was a freak accident and not due to a technical fault
“It was not a technical issue at all,” said the engineer, who asked not to be identified. He told Agence France Presse that the crane, like many others on the project, had been there for three or four years without any problem.
Authorities are investigating the tragedy, which occurred as hundreds of thousands of Muslims from around the world were gathering for the annual Haj pilgrimage.
The engineer said the crane was the main one used on work to expand the tawaf, or circumambulation area around the Kaaba — a massive cubed structure at the center of the mosque that is a focal point of worship.
“It has been installed in a way so as not to affect the hundreds of thousands of worshippers in the area and in an extremely professional way,” he said.
“This is the most difficult place to work in, due to the huge numbers of people in the area.”
The crane’s heavy hook, which is able to lift hundreds of tons, began swaying and moved the whole crane with it, toppling into the mosque, the engineer explained.
A witness said the accident occurred during winds which were so strong they shook his car and tossed billboards around.
The development project is expanding the area of the Grand Mosque by 400,000 square meters (4.3 million square feet), allowing it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once.