Saudi Arabia's King Salman ordered a safety review Thursday for the hajj pilgrimage after a deadly stampede killed at least 717 people and injured 863 others in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca. The incident occurred on the first day of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, which marks the end of hajj.
There was a need "to improve the level of organization and management of movement" of pilgrims, the king said, according to BBC. The Saudi government has reportedly decided to put in place a commission to investigate the stampede after it faced criticism over its infrastructure and security to accommodate the 2 million people who take part in the world’s largest mass migration each year.
Pope Francis expressed "sentiments of closeness" with Muslims during a prayer service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.
"I would like to express two sentiments for my Muslim brothers and sisters," he reportedly said. "In this moment I give assurances of my prayers. I unite myself with you all. A prayer to all mighty God all merciful.”
Witnesses to the deadliest disaster to hit the pilgrimage in 25 years reportedly blamed Saudi authorities and said they were afraid to continue the rituals. Hundreds have been killed during the annual Islamic pilgrimage in the past years.
“They don’t have a clue how to engage with these people,” Irfan al-Alawi, co-founder of the Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, said about the police, according to the Guardian. “There’s no crowd control.” He slammed the police saying they were not properly trained and lacked skills to communicate with foreign pilgrims.
“There was crowding. The police had closed all entrances and exits to the pilgrims’ camp, leaving only one,” Ahmed Abu Bakr, a Libyan who escaped the stampede with his mother, told the Guardian. “I saw dead bodies in front of me and injuries and suffocation. We removed the victims with the police.”
He also criticized the police saying they appeared inexperienced. “They don’t even know the roads and the places around here,” the 45-year-old reportedly added.
Later on Friday, reports citing authorities said that at least 131 Iranians, 14 Indians and four Turkish nationals were among those killed in the stampede. Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported that five Turks still remain missing, according to the Associated Press while another report said that a Dutch woman was among the dead.
Khaled al-Falih, the Saudi health minister, earlier blamed the pilgrims for the stampede saying they were undisciplined and moved "without respecting the timetables" established by authorities.
The accident occurred as pilgrims were walking toward a five-story structure in Mina, about 3 miles from Mecca, to perform the ritual of the "Stoning of the Devil" by casting stones at pillars symbolizing Satan. The stoning ritual is supposed to continue Friday and Saturday.
“Of course we are afraid of tomorrow,” 39-year-old Egyptian Mohammed Hasan reportedly said Thursday. “I want to go do the stoning at night. I asked a cleric, he said it’s OK.”
The latest incident comes shortly after a giant construction crane collapsed at another major Islamic holy site, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, earlier this month, killing at least 110 people and injuring more than 390.