Saudi Arabia’s health minister said a crush that killed more than 700 people at the Hajj pilgrimage may have been caused by pilgrims failing to follow instructions from authorities.
In a statement posted on the ministry’s website on Friday, the minister, Khalid al-Falih, said an investigation would be conducted rapidly into the worst disaster to strike the annual Hajj pilgrimage for 25 years.
At least 863 others were injured during the stampede at the Hajj, the world’s largest annual gathering of people.
“The investigations into the incident of the stampede that took place today in Mina, which was perhaps because some pilgrims moved without following instructions by the relevant authorities, will be fast and will be announced as has happened in other incidents,” the statement said.
Falih said the injured were being transferred to hospitals in Mecca and if necessary on to other parts of the country.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said he had ordered a review of the Hajj plans after the disaster, in which two large groups of pilgrims collided with each other at a crossroad in Mina, a few kilometres east of Mecca, on their way to performing the “stoning of the devil” ritual at Jamarat.
The findings of the investigation will be submitted to King Salman, “who will take appropriate measures” in response, the Saudi Press agency said.
Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry said the crush of pilgrims appeared to have been caused by two waves of pilgrims meeting at an intersection.
Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki said high temperatures and fatigue may also have been factors in the disaster.
Saudi Arabia blamed
Pilgrims at the scene blamed the Saudi authorities and some said they were afraid to continue the Hajj rituals. However, they said security had improved on Friday and the crowd was smaller.
A Kenyan survivor who returned to the pillars on Friday told AFP news agency his group lost three people, including one whose fate remains unknown.
“I can blame the Saudi government because they did not control (the situation). I was there. I survived,” Isaac Saleh said as tears welled in his eyes.
Another Kenyan, Rahman Shareef, said that “the Jamarat (stoning site) is good today. I had fears but I’m still alive and hope my family sees me surviving.”
The head of Iran’s Hajj organisation, Said Ohadi, said that for “unknown reasons,” two paths had been closed off near the site of a symbolic “stoning of the devil” ritual where the stampede occurred.
“This caused this tragic incident,” he said on state television, according to the Associated Press news agency.
Ohadi said the path closures had left only three routes to the area where the stoning ceremony was held.
Iranian officials said on Friday that at least 131 Iranian pilgrims were among the dead.
India, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Netherlands also confirmed deaths and Turkey reported 18 missing. Moroccan media reported 87 nationals among the dead.
Mina houses more than 160,000 tents where people spend the night during the pilgrimage.
Al Jazeera’s Basma Atassi, reporting from Mina, said the incident took place in a street between pilgrim camps.
“The street where it happened is named Street 204,” Atassi reported.
“During and after the stampede, the pilgrims continued to flock into Mina to perform the devil stoning ritual.”