Blame shifted towards Saudi authorities today after a stampede at the hajj killed at least 717 people, in the worst tragedy to strike the annual Muslim pilgrimage in a quarter of a century.
The disaster, which also left several hundred people wounded, was the second deadly accident to hit worshippers this month, after a crane collapse in the holy city of Mecca killed more than 100.
At the scene, bodies lay in piles, surrounded by discarded personal belongings and flattened water bottles, while rescue workers laid bodies in long rows on stretchers, limbs protruding from beneath white sheets.
The stampede broke out in Mina, about five kilometres (three miles) from Mecca, during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual. The Saudi civil defence service said it was still counting the dead, who included pilgrims from different countries.
Iran announced that 90 of its nationals were among the victims, and accused regional rival Saudi Arabia of safety errors, while pilgrims at the site blamed the authorities and said they were afraid to continue the annual religious rituals.
King Salman ordered “a revision” of hajj organisation so that pilgrims can “carry out their rituals in complete safety”, the official Saudi Press Agency said, while Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayyef, who chair’s the kingdom’s hajj committee, ordered an inquiry.
A Saudi minister blamed the pilgrims for the tragedy, saying they had not followed hajj rules.
“Many pilgrims move without respecting the timetables” set for the hajj, Health Minister Khaled al-Falih told El-Ekhbariya television.
“If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided.”
The stampede began at around 9:00 am (0600 GMT), shortly after the civil defence said on Twitter it was dealing with a “crowding” incident in Mina.
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.
Interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki said the stampede was caused when “a large number of pilgrims were in motion at the same time” at an intersection of two streets in Mina.
“The great heat and fatigue of the pilgrims contributed to the large number of victims,” he said. Temperatures in Mina had reached 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) yesterday.