Stampede Near Mecca Leaves at Least 310 Dead

25Mecca-web-articleLarge BEIRUT, Lebanon — At least 310 people were killed, and 450 were injured, in a stampede near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday morning. The deaths occurred around 9 a.m., on the first day of Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest holidays in the Muslim calendar, and as millions of Muslims were making their pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca. The accident took place at the intersection of two roads in Mina, causing many to fall and others to panic, according to Saudi Arabia’s civil defense directorate. Saudi authorities reported the deaths on Twitter and said that two medical centers had been opened in Mina to treat the injured. More than 4,000 emergency workers were sent to the scene, and hundreds of people were taken to four hospitals. The stampede occurred less than two weeks after a large construction crane toppled and crashed into the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing at least 111 people and injuring 394 others. The accident on Thursday, witnesses reported on social media, occurred around the area where pilgrims go to perform a ritual — the Stoning of the Devil, a re-enactment of a story from the Quran involving the Prophet Abraham — that takes place during the hajj. TOPSHOTS-SAUDI-RELIGION-ISLAM-HAJJ Mina, about six miles east of the city center of Mecca, provides temporary accommodation — with tens of thousands of air-conditioned tents — for many of the more than two million pilgrims who make the hajj to circumnavigate the Kaaba, which sits at the center of the Grand Mosque. As the global middle-class grows, so has the number of Muslims making the annual pilgrimage, placing increasing strain on the Saudi authorities. Thursday’s stampede is likely to intensify fears that the kingdom does not have the transportation and public safety infrastructure to channel and protect what is the world’s largest regular human migration. Mina has been the site of multiple deadly accidents over the years. In 2006, a stampede there claimed more than 360 lives on the eve of the hajj, and a day earlier an eight-story building near the Grand Mosque collapsed, killing at least 73 people. In 2001, a stampede in Mina killed around 35 people; in 1998, about 180 pilgrims were trampled there after several of them fell off an overpass during the stoning ritual; in 1997, at least 340 pilgrims were killed in a fire in Mina set off by high winds; and in 1994, about 270 were killed in a stampede there. “There is no accountability,” Madawi al-Rasheed, an anthropologist and visiting professor at the London School of Economics who is the author of several books on Saudi Arabia, said in a phone interview. “It’s shocking that almost every year there is some kind of death toll.” The Saudi government began a construction boom around Mecca around a decade ago, at the start of the reign of King Abdullah, who died in January. “The renovation and expansion are done under the pretext of creating more space for Muslim pilgrims, but it masks land grabs and vast amounts of money being made by the princes and by other Saudis,” Professor Rasheed said. After the crane collapse, the Saudi government punished the Saudi Binladin Group — a construction conglomerate working on the mosque expansion — by denying it future contracts and banning travel for some of its executives. A vast majority of pilgrims are not from Saudi Arabia and have not been able to exert pressure on the government to improve crowd control or public safety around the hajj. Professor Rasheed said that officials in the kingdom have avoided responsibility in part by citing the Islamic doctrine that anyone who dies during the pilgrimage — which a Muslim is expeted to make at least once in a lifetime — goes to heaven. On Thursday, the Saudi civil defense directorate said on Twitter, “We ask God to grant the martyrs his mercy.” Source