Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 February 2020

Analysis: What happened at Haj this year?

Justin Vela takes a look at what is currently known about Thursday's stampede in Mina, near to the city of Mecca, in which at least 719 pilgrims were killed.
Saudi policemen watch monitor screens showing footage from cameras set up around the holy places in Mina, near the city of Mecca, on September 25, 2015, a day after at least 719 people were killed during a stampede in the area. Ahmad Masood/Reuters
Saudi policemen watch monitor screens showing footage from cameras set up around the holy places in Mina, near the city of Mecca, on September 25, 2015, a day after at least 719 people were killed during a stampede in the area. Ahmad Masood/Reuters

What happened at Haj this year? The question is being asked around the world.

All that is known for sure is that at least 719 pilgrims died and 863 were injured after a stampede occurred in Mina, five kilometres from Mecca.

According to an statement issued by Saudi Arabian authorities, large numbers of pilgrims massed at an intersection in Mina on Thursday morning, near the Jamarat Bridge.

Amid the confusion, exacerbated by high temperatures, a panic broke out among the pilgrims and people began to push against each other. A stampede broke out and, apparently because of roads being closed off, there were too few places to run. Soon, hundreds of men, women and children from around the world were dead.

It was the worst Haj inncient since 1990 when a stampede killed 1,426 people.

This year’s Haj was under particular scrutiny because of a September 11 accident that saw more than 100 people die after a crane fell on the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Every year, Saudi Arabia deploys thousands of security personnel to protect pilgrims. The country’s civil defence force said before this year’s Haj that they were ready to handle “all types of possible risks”.

More than 450 civil defence centres had been established in “Mecca, the holy sites, and Madina”, according to the civil defence website. The centres were equipped with fire and rescue vehicles and safety equipment.

But it wasn’t enough. The sheer numbers of people attending the Haj, estimated to be about two million, appeared to make it difficult for emergency services to deploy in time.

Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has promised an investigation to what occurred. A Saudi Arabian official contacted by The National said he could not offer additional information until the results of the investigation are released.

The Haj ends on Saturday.

jvela@thenational.ae

Updated: September 25, 2015 04:00 AM

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