Saudis under fire after disaster

The stampede "was perhaps because some pilgrims moved without following instructions by the relevant authorities," he said in a statement.

September 25, 2015 11:25 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 04:11 pm IST

On Friday, Saudi Arabia suggested pilgrims ignoring crowd control rules bore some blame for a crush that killed over 700 people at the Haj pilgrimage in the annual event’s worst disaster for 25 years.

The kingdom’s regional rival Iran expressed outrage at the deaths of 131 of its nationals at the world’s largest annual gathering of people, and politicians in Tehran suggested Riyadh was incapable of managing the event.

Saudi Health Minister Khalid al-Falih said an investigation would be conducted rapidly and a final toll of dead and wounded calculated. At least 863 pilgrims were injured.

The stampede “was perhaps because some pilgrims moved without following instructions by the relevant authorities,” he said in a statement.

The kingdom’s critics were likely to see the statement as an attempt to deflect responsibility. Safety during the Haj is highly sensitive for the ruling Al Saud dynasty, which presents itself internationally as the guardian of orthodox Islam and custodian of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina.

Saudi King Salman ordered a review of Haj plans after the disaster, in which two big groups of pilgrims collided at a crossroads in Mina, a few km east of Mecca, on their way to performing the “Stoning of the Devil” ritual at Jamarat.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, echoed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in blaming Saudi Arabia for the incident.

“I ask the Saudi Arabian government to take responsibility for this catastrophe and fulfil its legal and Islamic duties in this regard,” Mr. Rouhani said in a statement. Iranian state television said the demonstrators in Tehran were showing their anger at “Saudi incapability and incompetence to run the Haj”.

Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour Turki was quoted in Saudi media on Friday as saying the security forces had immediately responded and begun to rescue those who fell in the crush.

“This year’s Haj ceremony was disorganised as the Saudi government had hired young and inexperienced people,” Saeed Ohadi, Head of Iran’s Haj and pilgrimage organisation told Iran's state broadcaster in a live interview from Mecca.

Speaking in New York, Pope Francis expressed “my sentiments of closeness” with Muslims after the tragedy.

Former Iraqi Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, an ally of Iran and foe of Riyadh, said the incident was “proof of the incompetence of the organisers.”

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