Mecca Stampede: Witnesses Blame Officials For Hajj Horror As African Leaders Hit Out At Blame Of Africans

"There was crowding. The police had closed all entrances and exits to the pilgrims' camp, leaving only one," said Ahmed Abu Bakr, a 45-year-old Libyan who escaped the stampede with his mother.

"I saw dead bodies in front of me and injuries and suffocation. We removed the victims with the police."

Interactive: Mecca Stampede

He added that police at the scene appeared inexperienced. "They don't even know the roads and the places around here," he said as others nodded in agreement.

Pilgrims in Mina stay in a complex of white fireproof tents big enough to hold more than two million people, and the interior ministry said it deployed 100,000 police to secure the hajj, maintain safety and manage traffic and crowds.

One critic of redevelopment at the holy sites said despite the large numbers, police were not properly trained and lacked the language skills for communicating with foreign pilgrims, who make up the majority of those on the hajj.

"They don't have a clue how to engage with these people," said Irfan al-Alawi, co-founder of the Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation.

"There's no crowd control," Mr Alawi said.

The stampede took place in Mina, outside of MeccaThe stampede took place in Mina, outside of Mecca  Photo: AP

Another witness, 39-year-old Egyptian Mohammed Hasan, voiced worries that a similar incident "could happen again".

"You just find soldiers gathered in one place doing nothing," he said.

He also alleged that he had been insulted because of his nationality, when security men asked him to "come identify this Egyptian corpse".

"Why are they humiliating us like this? We are coming as pilgrims asking for nothing," Mr Hasan said, urging the security forces to "organise the roads" to ensure the smooth movement of people.

Among those confirmed to have been killed in the tragedy were three Kenyans, an unknown number of people from Niger, Chad and Senegal and Nigerians including Bilkisu Yusu, northern Nigeria's first female newspaper editor.

Members of the Saudi emergency services move among the bodies of those killed in a stampede in the MinaMembers of the Saudi emergency services move among the bodies of those killed in a stampede in the Mina

Prince Khaled al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's head of the central hajj commitee, sparked fury by blaming "some pilgrims with African nationalities" for the crush.

Nigeria's Emir of Kano rejected the suggestion, saying pilgrims arriving at the Jamarat should not be travelling on the same road as those who have finished performing the ritual. "They should not cross each other," Muhammad Sanusi said.

"We are therefore urging the Saudi authorities not to apportion blame to the pilgrims for not obeying instructions."

Barr Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammed, chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, said it would be apparent from an investigation that the pilgrims could not be blamed.

"At this time of electronic age and the closed-circuit cameras installed in Mecca and environment, the authorities can easily know how the stampede started and what caused it,’’ he was quoted as saying by Nigeria's Punch newspaper.

A Kenyan survivor who returned to the pillars on Friday told AFP his group lost three people. "I can blame the Saudi government because they did not control (the situation). I was there. I survived," a tearful Isaac Saleh said.

The prince's comments brought accusations on social media of racism.

Shaija Patel, the Kenyan poet, playwright and political activist, tweeted that his comments were "obscene". "It's criminal incitement to anti-black violence," she wrote on Twitter.

Saudi Arabia blaming #MinaStampede on African pilgrims is more than obscene racism. It's criminal incitement to anti-black violence.

— Shailja Patel (@shailjapatel) September 24, 2015

"Ugandan fish seller Kasifah Nankumba saved for 10 years to perform Hajj. Saudi Arabia blames HER for #MinaStampede?"

Abu Farhan, a Kenyan muslim, wrote: "I have been to Hajj and the 'over eagerness' of Africans is at times shameful but they cannot cause a stampede."

@bettywaitherero My dear I have been to Hajj and the 'over eagerness' of Africans is at times shameful but they cannot cause a stampede

— Abu Farhan (@M4bdi) September 24, 2015

Even before Thursday's stoning tragedy, other pilgrims had complained of a lack of organisation.

In the view of an Egyptian worshipper who identified himself only by his first name Ahmed, "the fault is not on the pilgrims".

"Saudi Arabia is spending a lot on hajj but there is no organisation," he said, complaining that the flow of people into and out of the tent camp needed to be better managed.

"They could make one road for those going and another for those returning," Ahmed said.

"If one policeman would stand at the start of every road and organise the pilgrims, none of this would happen."

Muslim pilgrims walk on roads as they head to cast stones at pillars symbolizing Satan during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mina on the first day of Eid al-Adha, near the holy city of MeccaMuslim pilgrims walk on roads as they head to cast stones at pillars symbolizing Satan during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mina on the first day of Eid al-Adha, near the holy city of Mecca  Photo: REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Thursday's tragedy occurred outside the five-storey Jamarat Bridge, which was erected in the last decade at a cost of more than £660 million and intended to improve safety.

 

Almost less than a mile long, the Jamarat Bridge allows 300,000 pilgrims an hour to carry out the ritual, in which they throw pebbles against the pillars.

General Mansur al-Turki, interior ministry spokesman, 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.

Pilgrims on the plains of Arafat during the annual hajj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of MeccaPilgrims on the plains of Arafat during the annual hajj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca  Photo: REUTERS

The stoning ritual is supposed to continue on Friday and Saturday, but pilgrims said they were fearful of a repeat of Thursday's deaths. Some put their faith in God, saying he would protect them.

"Of course we are afraid of tomorrow," said Mr Hasan, the Egyptian pilgrim. "I want to go do the stoning at night. I asked a cleric, he said it's OK."

Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/saudiarabia/11890212/Mecca-stampede-Witnesses-blame-Saudi-officials-for-hajj-horror-and-describe-seeing-dead-bodies.html

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