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Friday 9 December 2016

Horror as 717 crushed to death in stampede during pilgrimage to Muslim site

Bodies of those killed in the crush are laid out to be taken away
Bodies of those killed in the crush are laid out to be taken away
There were among more than 700 killed

A horrific stampede killed at least 717 pilgrims and injured hundreds more on the outskirts of Mecca in Saudi Arabia yesterday, the deadliest tragedy to strike the annual hajj pilgrimage in more than two decades.

At least 863 pilgrims were injured in the crush, said the Saudi civil defence. The tragedy struck as Muslims around the world marked the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday.

It was the second major disaster during this year's hajj season, raising questions about the adequacy of measures put in place by Saudi authorities to ensure the safety of the roughly two million Muslims taking part. A crane collapse in Mecca nearly two weeks earlier left 111 people dead.

Saudi Arabia takes great pride in its role as the caretaker of Islam's holiest sites and host to millions of pilgrims annually.

But the hajj poses an immense logistical and security challenge for the kingdom, given the sheer number of hundreds of thousands of people from differing linguistic and cultural backgrounds, many of whom have saved for years for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, - intent on following the same set of rituals at about the same time.

The crush happened in Mina, a large valley five kilometres from Mecca that has been the site of hajj stampedes in years past. Mina is where pilgrims carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone columns.

It also houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage.

The tragedy struck during a morning surge of pilgrims at the intersection of two streets.

More than 220 rescue vehicles and some 4,000 members of the emergency services were deployed soon after the stampede to try to ease the congestion.

Amateur video shared on social media showed a horrific scene, with scores of bodies - the men dressed in the simple terry cloth garments worn during hajj - lying amid crushed wheelchairs and water bottles along a sunbaked street.

The crush happened less than two weeks after a giant construction crane came crashing down on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the focal point of the hajj. The September 11 accident killed at least 111 people and injured more than 390.

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