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Dublin: 13 °C Sunday 15 September, 2019
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Death toll from Muslim pilgrimage tragedy reaches 717

The stampede broke out during the symbolic ‘stoning of the devil’ ritual. Hundreds more have been injured.

Updated 2pm

Mideast Saudi Arabia Hajj Muslim pilgrims pray on the second and most significant day of the annual hajj. Source: AP/Press Association Images

AT LEAST 717 people have been killed in a major stampede near the holy Muslim city of Mecca, according to officials in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi civil defence revised the death toll upwards in their latest update this afternoon, saying at least 805 more people had been injured.

The stampede – the second deadly accident to hit the pilgrims this month following a crane collapse in Mecca – broke out during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual.

Officials still they were still counting the dead, who included pilgrims from different countries.

Nearly two million people from across the globe were in Saudi Arabia for the hajj, one of the largest annual gatherings in the world.

‘Safety errors’

Iran earlier said at least 43 of its citizens were dead and accused Saudi Arabia of safety errors that caused the accident.

The stampede began at around 9:00 am (7am Irish time), shortly after the civil defence service said on Twitter it was dealing with a “crowding” incident in Mina, about five kilometres from Mecca.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had converged on Mina to throw pebbles at one of three walls representing Satan, for the last major ritual of the hajj which officially ends on Sunday.

How did it happen? 

A hospital official told AFP the incident happened outside the Jamarat Bridge structure, where the stoning takes place.

A group of pilgrims leaving the area collided with another group that was either moving in the opposite direction or camped outside, the official said.

Bodies were laid out on the ground, covered in white sheets and surrounded by personal belongings including shoes and umbrellas used by pilgrims to shield themselves from the sun.

Chaos 

Helicopters were flying overhead and ambulances were rushing the wounded to hospital, AFP reporters at the scene said.

At one hospital, a steady stream of ambulances was arriving, discharging pilgrims carried inside on stretchers.

Latest tragedy

It was the second major accident this year for hajj pilgrims, after a construction crane collapsed on September 11 at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, killing 109 people including many foreigners.

The hajj is among the five pillars of Islam and every capable Muslim must perform it at least once in a lifetime.

For years the pilgrimage was marred by stampedes and fires, but it had been largely incident-free for nearly a decade following safety improvements.

In the last major incident in January 2006, 364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede during the stoning ritual in Mina.

In 1990 a huge stampede in a tunnel at Mina after a failure in its ventilation system killed 1,426 pilgrims, mainly from Asia.

With reporting from © – AFP 2015 and Daragh Brophy.

Photos: Millions of Muslims descend on Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage >

Read: 87 dead as crane collapses into Mecca’s Grand Mosque >

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Rónán Duffy

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