Hundreds dead in Hajj stampede

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Plains of Arafat on the day of Hajj Photo Credit: Ali Mansuri

According to the Saudi Interior Ministry over 345 Muslim pilgrims have been killed in a stampede during the annual Hajj pilgrimage near Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

The stampede at Islam's most holy site happened at Jamarat Bridge, during an event where pebbles are thrown at a pillar to represent the stoning of Satan as part of the final rites of the Hajj. The stampede began when luggage from a bus tripped pilgrims at the eastern end of the wall, causing a bottleneck. Those who were tripped were then crushed by the wave of people behind them.

Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca during their lifetimes, if physically or financially possible, as it is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. Saudi officials had already provided safeguards by installing an oval wall with padded edges to protect pilgrams from a crush, installed security cameras and placed over 60,000 security personnel in the area.

This is not the first time deadly stampedes have taken place during the Hajj, with the deadliest stampede during the 1991 Hajj, in which 1,426 pilgrims were trampled.

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Last week, at least 76 people were killed when the Al Ghaza Hotel near the Masjid Al Haram (Grand Mosque) collasped, the cause of which is unknown.

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