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No Kuwaitis among 769 Jamarat dead – Rivals clash

kuwaitis-in-meccaMAKKAH, Sept 27, (Agencies): Kuwait’s Minister of Justice, Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Yaqoub Al- Sane confirmed that no Kuwaitis were among the dead and injured of the tragic Hajj stampede incident, which took place earlier in Mina, Saudi Arabia and led to death of over 700 people and injury to over 800 others.

Al-Sane made his remarks in a statement to KUNA following his visit to the Kuwaiti Hajj mission in the holy city of Makkah to congratulate them on Eid Al-Adha, and his visits to a number of Kuwaiti Hajj campaign headquarters. Kuwaiti Hajj campaigns assured that all of their pilgrims are fine and were not present at the tragic incident’s location, Al-Sane stated to KUNA, reiterating assurance to the Kuwaiti political leadership and people that all matters are currently going as planned and as scheduled by Kuwaiti Hajj campaigns.

The minister expressed his condolences to the government of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and families of the victims of the tragic Hajj stampede incident. Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded Saudi Arabia apologise Sunday for a stampede that killed 769 pilgrims at the Hajj, as a war of words escalated between the regional rivals. Khamenei accused Riyadh of “a blame game”, after the Saudi foreign minister said Iran was playing politics with tragedy. “Instead of passing the buck and playing a blame game, the Saudis should accept their responsibility and apologise to the world’s Muslims and the bereaved families,” Khamenei said in comments reported by Iran’s official IRNA news agency. Iranian leaders have been fiercely critical of Saudi authorities’ handling of safety at the Hajj, following Thursday’s stampede during a ritual stoning of the devil in Mina, near the holy city of Makkah. Within hours, Khamenei blamed “improper measures” and “mismanagement” for the disaster.

At least 144 Iranians died in the crush — the highest confirmed toll among foreign nationalities. Tehran says 323 Iranians are missing. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, addressing a UN development summit in New York on Saturday, said he wanted to “emphasise the need for swift attention to the injured as well as investigating the causes of this incident and other similar incidents in this year’s Hajj.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, also in New York for the UN General Assembly, said the Iranians “should know better than to play politics with a tragedy that has befallen people who were performing their most sacred religious duty.” Saudi King Salman, whose official title is “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” in Makkah and Madina, ordered “a revision” of how the Hajj is organised, and a formal Saudi inquiry is under way into the stampede.

It was the worst disaster to strike the annual pilgrimage in a quarter-century. “We will reveal the facts when they emerge. And we will not hold anything back,” Jubeir said, adding the Kingdom has a long history of devoting “tremendous resources” to ensuring a successful pilgrimage. “I would hope Iranian leaders would be more sensible and more thoughtful with regards to those who perished in this tragedy, and wait until we see the results of the investigation.”

Relations between Shiite Iran and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia were already severely strained by conflicts in Yemen and Syria, and an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. It is also not the first time Iranian pilgrims have been killed in Saudi Arabia. In 1987 Saudi security forces suppressed an unauthorised protest by Iranian pilgrims. An official toll gave the death toll as more than 400, including 275 Iranians. Iran has demanded that affected countries have a role in the stampede investigation, and on Friday Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani said the running of the Hajj “must be handed over to Islamic states.” Such suggestions are “frankly ridiculous”, columnist Rasheed Abou-Alsamh wrote in Sunday’s Arab News, an English-language Saudi daily. He said criticism of the kingdom’s Hajj organisation is part of a “concerted campaign of defamation against Saudi Arabia by its enemies”. The Saudi Press Agency over the weekend started a Twitter account, @spa_persian, to transmit official information in the Iranian language Farsi. Senior Saudi officials suggested the pilgrims were at fault for not following instructions.

The interior ministry has said it assigned 100,000 police to secure the Hajj and manage crowds at the event, which drew almost two million faithful. But pilgrims blamed the stampede on police road closures and poor crowd management, during searing temperatures. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were converging on a five-storey structure known as Jamarat Bridge to perform the stoning ritual when the stampede happened nearby. “The police blocked all the roads, leaving us with only one route,” said Hamza Musa Kabir, 55, of Kano, Nigeria. Kabir was in a procession heading towards the Jamarat Bridge when, he said, police let pilgrims returning from the stoning site use the same route. “Because those returning were moving in the opposite (direction) of the surging crowd, there was a stampede,” said Kabir, who became trapped under another man and had to disrobe to escape.

The stampede was the second tragedy to cast a pall over this year’s Hajj. A massive construction crane collapsed on Makkah’s Grand Mosque several days before and killed 109 people, many of them pilgrims. For years, the Hajj was marred by stampedes and fires, but it had been largely incident-free for almost a decade after safety improvements and billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure investment. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s top religious leader says a stampede which killed 769 pilgrims was beyond human control, official media reported on Saturday, the final day of this year’s Hajj.

The stampede was the worst disaster in a quarter-century to strike the annual event and drew fierce criticism of the Saudi authorities’ handling of safety, particularly from regional rival Iran. “You are not responsible for what happened”, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh told Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in a meeting in Mina on Friday, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. “As for the things that humans cannot control, you are not blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable,” Sheikh told the prince, who is also minister of interior. Mohammed chairs the Saudi Hajj committee and has ordered an investigation into Thursday’s stampede during a symbolic stoning of the devil ritual by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims at Jamarat Bridge in Mina, just outside the holy city of Makkah.

Injured survivors of a Hajj stampede that killed 769 people have recounted their struggle to survive, trapped among a surging crowd where escape routes were blocked. From his bed at Mina Emergency Hospital, Sudanese pilgrim Ahmed Mohammed, injured on his back and leg, remembered how he was caught on the front lines of the throng. “I felt tired, I couldn’t move,” said the 57-year-old. “I told myself that if I fall here, they will trample on me, as I had already seen people on the ground being stepped on.” Thursday’s disaster occurred among the city of white tents where pilgrims stay in Mina, near Makkah, as hundreds of thousands converged on Jamarat Bridge, a five-storey structure where they were to perform a ritual stoning of the devil. “I thought of entering a nearby camp but those guarding the surrounding tents were refusing to let anyone in … and so people started climbing over the tents,” Mohammed said.

He finally escaped into a tent housing Tunisian pilgrims where he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, one of 934 people injured in the crush. “Everybody was trying to survive,” another injured pilgrim, Abbas Tijani of Nigeria, said from his bed at the same hospital. Tijani said he fell unconscious while he tried to climb a fence to escape death as chaos unfolded. “People were stepped on by people,” he said, recalling how there was no time to stop and care for the injured. “Many people were on the ground, and attempting to pick them up would lead to another disaster,” he said.

The crowd had gradually built up around him as groups of pilgrims headed to Jamarat Bridge to throw pebbles as part of the ritual. Eventually, “everybody was confused … running for their lives,” he said, a distant look in his eyes. “I was trying to go to the fence,” recalled Tijani. “Some people were on top of the fence trying to pull us up. The stampede was so much that I couldn’t be pulled up.” The next thing he knew, Tijani was on the hospital bed surrounded by medics. “The stampede was too heavy, too heavy.” Saudi Arabia’s health minister blamed the disaster on the pilgrims themselves for not “following instructions”. Interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki said “a large number of pilgrims were in motion at the same time” at an intersection in Mina. “The great heat and fatigue of the pilgrims contributed to the large number of victims,” he said. Tijani confirmed earlier witness accounts that police had closed routes in the area. He said there was only one entrance left.

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