Muslim pilgrims continue hajj rites after crush kills 700

Muslim pilgrims somberly resumed the final rites of hajj today after more than 700 people suffocated or were trampled to death when two waves of pilgrims collided in the deadliest disaster to strike the annual pilgrimage in a quarter-century.

The hajj pilgrimage is a main pillar of Islam that all able-bodied Muslims must perform once in their lifetime. This year, around 2 million people from more than 180 countries took part in the five-day pilgrimage, which ends Saturday. The mood remained somber despite the hajj coinciding with Eid al-Adha, a major Islamic holiday.

“Yesterday’s stampede was a catastrophe. We were shocked, but we can do nothing, this was their fate,” said Lolo Omar, a pilgrim from Eritrea, said near the site of the disaster in the town of Mina, just outside Islam’s holiest city, Mecca.

“We wish that Allah will facilitate our pilgrimage.”

Omar, like the pilgrims involved in Thursday’s disaster, was headed toward a complex housing three columns that pilgrims pelt with pebbles in a symbolic stoning of the devil.

Muslims believe the Prophet Ibrahim, or Abraham as he is known in the Bible, was confronted in this spot by the devil.

Among the 717 killed in Mina were pilgrims from Iran, Egypt, Turkey, India and Pakistan. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs said Friday that eight Afghan pilgrims were still missing.

Egyptian survivor Wael Abdullah said he had reached Mina Thursday when he saw people pushing and shoving to get past one another down one of the narrow streets. People tripped over those in wheelchairs, who also fell to the ground.

“I saw people falling on the ground, other people trampling them… And the situation was out of control,” he said.

Mina is a large valley about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Mecca that has been the site of hajj stampedes in past years.

The area houses more than 160,000 tents for pilgrims. The street where the incident took place is about 12 meters (36 feet) wide and lined with barricades, behind which are some of the tents of hajj tour groups, organized by nationality.

Saudi King Salman has ordered the formation of a committee to investigate the incident.