Hajj stampede death toll dispute continues

Saudi Arabia denies reports that more than 1,000 pilgrims have died in Hajj stampede in Mecca

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

An aerial view shows the Grand Mosque and the Kaaba in Saudi Arabia's holy Muslim city of Mecca

Controversy regarding the death toll from the stampede in which hundreds of Hajj pilgrims died last week in Mina, Saudi Arabia continues as officials from countries like Nigeria, Pakistan and Iran give contradicting estimates, opposing the official figures given by Saudi Arabia.

Abba Yakubu, a Hajj official from Nigeria on Tuesday claimed that Saudi authorities have taken 1,075 bodies to mortuaries in the city of Jeddah, around 100 kilometres from Mecca, BBC reported.

The dead bodies were transported to Jeddah in 14 trucks, Yakubu claimed that the 10 of the trucks transported the bodies to the morgues, but four of the trucks had yet to be dealt with.

The claimed number is much more than the official Saudi death toll given as 769.

Other countries such as India and Pakistan, have sent photos that show 1,090 pilgrims who have died.

The stampede occurred after two groups of pilgrims converged at an intersection, as they took part in Hajj’s stone-throwing at pillars, called Jamarat, where Satan is believed to have tempted the Prophet Abraham.

Saudi authorities denied the allegations, saying that the photos show unidentified people who have died at the Hajj from various reasons and not from the stampede.

Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mansour al Turki said on Tuesday, that the pictures include people who died of natural causes and 111 people who died when a crane crashed at Mecca's Grand Mosque on September 11, the Associated Press reports.

Crane crash in Mecca's Grand Mosque, which killed 107 people and injured around 400, happened days before the Hajj stampede.

Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s most senior cleric had stated that the stampede was "beyond human control."

Saudi Arabia’s King, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has ordered a safety review into the stampede.

Meanwhile, the Senate of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, started working towards setting up a committee, to research the reasons for the stampede which killed more than 700 people.

Several countries, particularly Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran, which had the most number of nationals killed at 228 people, has been criticising Saudi Arabia and demanding action.

Iran calls for an investigation at the UN General Assembly

Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on Monday, slammed Saudi Arabia’s "incompetence" over the stampede and demanded an investigation into the disaster.

Rouhani, accused the Saudi management and said that the pilgrims had gathered to perform a divine spiritual service but "fell victim to the incompetence and mismanagement of those in charge."

President of Iran Hassan Rouhani addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 28, 2015 in New York City / Photo by AFP

He called for "an independent and precise investigation into the causes of this disaster and ways of preventing its repetition in the future."

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Adel al Jubeir accused the Iranians of playing politics with a tragedy.

"I believe that the Iranians should know better than to play politics with a tragedy that has befallen people who were performing their most sacred religious duty,” Jubeir said in New York.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are also at an odds in Yemen and Syria. Saudi Arabia views Iran as trying to use conflict to expand its influence in the region.

Deaths reported so far by nationality

Iran: at least 228; Morocco: 87 (media reports); Egypt: 74; India: 45; Pakistan: 44; Cameroon: at least 20; Niger: at least 19; Chad: 11; Somalia: 8 (media reports); Senegal: 5; Algeria: 4; Tanzania: 4; Turkey: 4; Indonesia: 3; Kenya: 3; Nigeria: 3; Netherlands: 1; Burundi: 1; Burkina Faso: 1; Other nationalities (numbers not yet known): Benin

TRTWorld and agencies