Mina stampede: Haj pilgrims deaths rise to 769

Makka, Saudi Arabia

Health Minister Khalid Al-Falih on Saturday said the number of pilgrims who died in Thursday’s stampede in Mina has risen to 769. Al-Falih said the number of injured has also jumped to 934, of which many are still confined in hospitals. “The latest statistics up to this hour reveal 769 dead. That is an increase of 52 on the previous figures,” he told a press conference. “Those are the ones who died in various hospitals since the event,” he said.

Iran has reported the biggest number of deaths at 136, with Morocco coming next with 87. The other confirmed deaths, compiled by Agence France Presse, were from Cameroon, 20; Niger, 19: India, 18; Egypt, 14; Chad, 11; Pakistan, 9; Somalia, 8; Algeria, 7; Senegal, 5; Tanzania, 4; Indonesia, Kenya and Nigeria, 3 each; and Burkina Faso, Burundi and the Netherlands, 1 each.

Five Filipinos were also reported to have died in Makkah, but only one was caused by the stampede. The others died of illnesses aggravated by the heat, officials said. Benin had also reported deaths but the number was unspecified. Thursday’s stampede is the second worst in a number of tragedies to strike the pilgrimage, surpassed only by that of July 2, 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims, mainly from Asia, died during a stampede in a tunnel at Mina after a ventilation system failure.

On Saturday, Iran, which has been accused by Gulf states of fomenting troubles in the Middle East, including Yemen, Iraq and Syria, stepped up its blame game rhetoric by accusing Saudi authorities of mismanaging the crowd in Mina. Iranians also protested in the Islamic Republic on Friday.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, chairman of the Haj Supreme Committee, had earlier ordered the formation of an investigation committee to determine the causes of the stampede. Its findings would be submitted to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman. But Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh said he was not holding authorities responsible for the disaster. Security officers and witnesses have been quoted in reports as saying Thursday’s stampede happened when two large groups of pilgrims arrived together at a crossroads in Mina.

“You are not responsible for what happened. You dealt with the beneficial factors that were in your hands and within your ability. As for the things that humans cannot control, you cannot blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable,” Al-Sheikh said in a televised statement.

Al-Sheikh also appeared to deflect criticisms of the kingdom from outside as a product of “envy.” “Many are envious of the kingdom for its religion, leadership, economy and the cohesion of its members, and for the great blessings it has experienced, unlike many other countries,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday came to Saudi Arabia’s defense. “I do not sympathize with the hostile statements against Saudi Arabia,” he told journalists in Ankara. The Turkish leader said that it would be wrong to “point a finger at Saudi Arabia which does its best” to make the annual Haj pilgrimage possible. “You have to see the glass as half full,” he said, adding that each country suffers failures.