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Category:Mena Disaster

Eyewitness accounts

Early eyewitnesses accounts stated that the crush was caused by the closure of eastern part of Street 206, which forced pilgrims travel up Street 223, colliding with a mass of people moving the opposite direction on Street 204.1
Alhaji Samaila Dabai Yombe, Deputy Governor of the Nigerian state of Kebbi, who was present at the incident, stated that the deaths happened due to a blockage of the route to Jamarat Bridge. "What actually happened was that all the pilgrims scheduled to throw Jamrat at that time were channeled to one particular street. At a time we got to a certain point around 8:00am, a military vehicle was set across to create a barrier and then some of the Saudi soldiers were standing by, suggesting that you cannot go beyond that point.  About 5,000 people coming from the same direction were not aware of the road block in front, which resulted to a tight and stationary human traffic, which made it very difficult for us to even stand. So, we continued to squat to make room for fresh air while the temperature was about 47 degrees celsius.  Pilgrims, in efforts to get fresh air, attempted to scale fences of tents on both sides of the road. Very few succeeded, while most people just succumb to the situation. It was at this juncture that we saw dead bodies piling up around us".
Ishaq Akintola, a Nigerian Professor of Islamic eschatology, gave an eyewitness account of the disaster: "on that fateful day, we found out that some of those who had thrown their own stones made a U-turn instead of moving ahead to take a detour. They came through the route meant for entrance and not exit. They came towards us. They were in a very large group and the road was not spacious enough to allow a free flow of those of us coming to throw stones at the Devil and those who had stoned the Devil. The road could not take those coming and those going. And I discovered that most of those who took the wrong way were Egyptians".
A North American pilgrim, his wife and elderly mother were not able to complete all of their Hajj rites because of Saudi incompetence and callousness.
I performed Hajj this year accompanied by my elderly mother and wife. It was not a pleasant experience. We were shocked by what we saw. We were lucky to survive the stampede at Mina. We had planned to go for the Jamarat a little later because of my elderly mother. A number of my friends witnessed the stampede firsthand although they were not in the middle of the crowd or they too would have perished.
After the stampede, we saw pilgrims’ bodies dumped in the streets as if they were garbage. The Saudis just did not care. There were distraught relatives crying and searching for their loved ones but they found little help from the Saudis. I thought since I am from North America, I might be able to talk to Saudi officials. They were not only not responsive but also very arrogant.
We were unable to perform our stoning rites the first day because roads were blocked. Also, the area around the stoning site was such a mess that it was hazardous to go there with my wife and elderly mother. We know of a number of other pilgrims that were too scared to go near the stoning area. What kind of Hajj is it when we cannot even perform our religious rites because of Saudi incompetence? Who is responsible for this?
Saudis did nothing to save us for couple of hours!
Following this tragedy accident Iranian Daily Shahr Ara conducted an interview with 'Haj Hamid Shaker Nijad', one of the survivors of the accident:
When the accident happened?
It was around 8 AM. We were in Mash'arul Haram, a place between Arafat and Mina. Pilgrims stayed in that place for one night and performed the especial rituals of this place. After that we moved toward Mina for Rami Jamarat. We were in our way to Mina but after a while the crowd stopped and didn't move anymore; all people were standing shoulder to shoulder so we were not able to move forward or backward. There was a deplorable condition, no water and no oxygen to breathe.
How long you were kept in this condition?
Maybe around 30 minutes; but if you were here you would understand that you can't stand a quarter under this weather in usual condition. The weather here is too hot so it is not even easy for you to walk and in this horrible condition the time going for you very slow.
How was the reaction of pilgrims in that situation?
Gradually a wave of fear began to rise in all people; we were feeling the fear of death. At first we were thinking that the way should be open soon, but there were high pressures on our chests and we have no oxygen to breath. Fear of death had caused some pilgrims to show certain reactions; some of them were shouting and trying to escape.
You mean there was no way to escape?
There was no way. We were so near to death so we made ourselves ready to die. All the people were in this condition but some of them could control themselves and the other couldn't. At that time Saudi police called on people to stay on their places and urged them to don't move; after that some African pilgrims decided to save their lives, so they pushed other people and tried to reach the tents by climbing them; these reactions brought more stresses among people and so many people were crushed to death under the foot.
As it is appear in the news and photos there were lots of people falling down on each other.
Yes, I saw how people being trampled underfoot in the crowd. There was no place to fall; so by falling of the first person, many people fell on him. I saw someone who was so crushed and all his stomach and intestines had spilled out.
Saudi government blames African pilgrims for this deadly disaster, what do you think about that?
Certainly it was Saudi's fault; they caused this tragedy by blocking the ways. They also did nothing for saving us for 3 or4 hours. We had no water; if there was a quick medical care the number of victims could never reached this huge amount.  
How Saudis were carrying the corpses and the wounded?
It was terrible; very very terrible; they put live people and the dead on each other. They were carrying the corpses and the wounded people by trucks because there were not enough ambulances!!!
Saudi fault for closing roads ahead of tragedy
The worst tragedy in the history of Hajj pilgrimage at the annual Muslim pilgrimage occurred during the ritual of stoning the devil in Mina, just outside of the holy city of Mecca.
 “There was crowding. The police had closed all entrances and exits to the pilgrims’ camps, 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.”
He added that the 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.
One critic of the 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.
Another witness, 39-year-old Egyptian Mohammad Hassan, voiced worries that a similar incident “could happen again”.
“You just find soldiers gathered in one place doing nothing,” he said.
He also said that he had been insulted because of his nationality, when security men asked him to “come identify his Egyptian corpse”.
“Why are they humiliating us like this? We are coming as pilgrims asking for nothing,” Mr. Hassan said, urging the security forces to “organize 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.
Nigeria’s Emir of Kano rejected Saudi Prince Khaled al-Faisal’s remarks who blamed some pilgrims with African nationalities for the crush.
He said pilgrims arriving at the Jamarat should not be travelling on the same road as those who have finished the rituals. “They should not cross each other,”
“We are therefore urging the Saudi authorities Muhammad Sansui said.
He called on Saudi authorities not to apportion blame to the pilgrims for not obeying instructions.”
A Kenyan survivor who returned to pillars told AFP that 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 Issac Saleh said, telegraph reported.
Did Iranian pilgrims cause Hajj stampede?
While all Muslims around the world are sorrowing over the death of more than 2000 pilgrims in the hajj of this year, Saudi authorities shamelessly are trying to blame others for this tragic event.
After blaming African pilgrims or calling this accident as a destiny from God, Saudi authorities now are pointing an accusing finger at Iran, where nearly the most of victims are from.  
In this regard Saudis have lunched some campaigns against Iran under the name of 'Iran kills Pilgrims'.
Asharq Al-Awsat daily which is related to Saudi royal family, today, in an illusory quotation from an unknown Iranian official in Hajj department claimed that Iranian pilgrims are in charge of Mina disaster!
"The Hajj tragedy that has left hundreds of people dead and injured was caused by a group of Iranian pilgrims who failed to follow instructions from Hajj authorities. The accident occurred after a group of around 300 Iranian pilgrims failed to follow orders and caused the accident," Asharq Al-Awsat claimed.
For investigating the authenticity of the news, Ahlul Bayt News Agency (ABNA) has conducted an interview with one of Iranian Hajj officials in Mecca who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid any threat from Saudis.
ABNA: Asharq Al-Awsat daily claimed that Iranian pilgrims caused the Mina accident as they allegedly moved against the crowd, thus provoking pilgrims to panic. Since you were there, can you tell us if such claims are valid?
Pilgrim:Not true at all. Those who have attended Hajj in recent years know very well that it is impossible to walk against the crowd. Moreover, the incident occurred in the morning of Eid, long before pilgrims even attempted to perform Rami; and so why would anyone be walking back? It makes no sense whatsoever!
ABNA:In past years, pilgrims were able to move in all directions via corridors - was it the same this year?
Pilgrim:No actually it wasn’t! This year there was no alternative route made available to pilgrims. Everyone had to use the same corridor, at the same time without any alternative provision.
ABNA:Asharq Al-Awsat daily claimed that when the Iranian pilgrims in question travelled from Mozdalafe to Mina they failed to go to their tents. Is that true?
Pilgrim:This is not true. After coming to Mina we went to our tents and ate breakfast; then we moved toward Jamarat. As I said before this event happened near Jamarat not at the entrance of Mozdalafe. There was a one-way road toward the Jamarat. Also, how is it possible for 300 people to move against thousands?!
ABNA:So what prompted this tragedy?
Pilgrim:Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia is responsible! The Saudi police blocked the road, forcing people to move in a very small and closed up road. They sent most of Hajj pilgrims on Street 204, but unfortunately that street was closed out! Police then called on those people in the front to sit adn wait. When they sat down those behind thought the way had been opened up and as a result moved forth. People began tripping over one another and mayhem ensued.
 
 
ABNA:Do you know why the authorities blocked the road?
Pilgrim:Maybe they did that to prevent people from being accumulated on the bridge of Jamarat, and prevent people from falling off the bridge. Either way the move was callous.
ABNA:How did the Saudi Police react to the accident?
Pilgrim:The Saudi security forces were terrible; they did nothing. They were just watching as people began dying. No efforts were made to help anyone.
ABNA:Asharq Al-Awsat also claimed that the Iranian pilgrims had a schedule and should have gone to Rami, arguing that the heads of the Iranian caravan ignored the schedule and as a result put people in harm’s way.
Pilgrim:Also this is not true; in fact there was no such schedule. This is pure fabrication.
ABNA:So why are the Saudi authorities putting those accusations forward?
Pilgrim:Clearly, they don't want to accept any responsibility and so they are trying to deflect blame by finding a scapegoat.
ABNA:To introduce Iran as the main cause of the accident some Saudi sources have also claimed that  Iranians were arrested, is it true?
Pilgrim:No, this report is also a baseless rumor.
ABNA:Why so many victims of the tragedy were from Iran and Africa?
Pilgrim:Actually, the tents of African and Iranian pilgrims were set up near where the accident happens which is why they suffered most.
ABNA:As you know Saudi rescue forces arrived 2 or 3 hours after the accident, how can such a thing be possible?
Pilgrim:Unfortunately, the Saudi government wasn't prepared to manage such an event.
 
I saw little of Islam’s compassion, but a lot of Saudi Arabia’s neglect.
In an article published on the website of The Guardian, British writer and activist Sabreena Razaq Hussain said a number of factors, including Saudi authorities’ treatment of pilgrims, contributed to the deadly crush during Hajj rituals in Mina, near Mecca.
With two million people gathered in one small city for Haj, some discomfort was to be expected. And putting up with it was, I initially thought, an opportunity to exercise the patience so very valued by our faith of Islam and in the holiest of cities. So, we marched on hopefully.
But with the 40-plus degree heat of Makkah, the harsh policing, the aggressive crowds, the chaotic organisation, the pressure was relentless. As the days went on, I couldn’t have felt a starker contrast between the spiritual tranquility and contentment experienced within the confines of the Grand Mosque and sites, and the anxiety and distress caused by those policing it.
Prior to my arrival in Saudi Arabia, accompanying my parents on pilgrimage, I was naive enough to believe that one of the richest Muslim countries in the world would be well organised in facilitating the rites of Haj.
Now, back in the UK, I am grateful to be alive and still horrified by what I witnessed.
I fully understand why hundreds of people were crushed to death and I don’t believe that “God’s will” can be used an excuse.
We’d had a pleasant and spiritual warm-up in the crowded but welcoming streets of Medina. Our group of UK pilgrims remained incredibly organised, my mother’s diabetes was stable and my father – an asthmatic – remained mercifully unaffected by the heat. As a pilgrim, daughter and a GP, I was happy and excited to be heading for Makkah. But, the reality was a shock.
Even getting to and from the mosque and other sites was distressing. We had to help wheelchair users on and off the wheelchairs many times, as the pavements were almost knee high with no clear ramps. Considering the number of people with permanent disability or debilitating conditions, this was shocking.
The heat was one of the biggest tests of all, causing many to become exhausted and dehydrated. Yet, only a few of the crowded routes had supplies of water. Some of the common pilgrim routes, for example, where the symbolic stoning of Satan takes place, were devoid of any water supplies other than the presence of young policemen occasionally squirting random pilgrims’ faces with water.
The manners and communication skills of the stewards and police deployed in and around the mosque were deplorable. With pilgrims from hundreds of countries, one would think that communication in at least one language other than Arabic would be available. This was not the case.
Not only that, but their manner of aggressively shouting at even the most softly spoken of pilgrims was both needless and a cause of humiliation for those on the receiving end. Nobody had ever spoken to me or my parents in this way before.
It appeared the only thing the very young policemen were authorised to do was shout the Arabic word for “no” and to barricade entry routes as and when they pleased without warning, offering no alternative: clearly a recipe for a crush or a stampede in any of the holy sites.
We were in the mosque when they barricaded an exit and said we couldn’t leave until the next prayer finished, an hour and a half later. The physical pressure of hundreds of people had started to build up behind us, causing extreme anxiety and hyperventilation.
I politely asked first, then literally begged the guards to let us exit as my mum’s diabetic medication was in our hotel which was quite near the mosque. Her sugar levels were dropping, but it made no difference.
When we did finally find a pilgrim to translate for us, our exit was still refused. When I almost cried and asked, “What happens if she collapses and dies here?”, the response was a shrug of the shoulders: if she dies she dies.
Aisha Khan, a Manchester-based business manager who was part of the same tour group, told me a few days later of her anguish after the authorities would not open the barrier to let her husband through to her, when she felt very unwell. She physically collapsed. Even then, the stewards remained in a small group laughing, not helping him to call for an ambulance. She recalls him running distressed from one side of the road to another, pleading for help.
Actually, making it to an ambulance was another problem. I saw ambulances stuck in the stopped traffic, with no provision for them to manoeuvre or overtake. Having stopped with a group of fellow pilgrims and doctors to help a lady slumped on the ground (looking as if she may be having a heart attack), it was infuriating to find that when the so-called paramedics arrived (they appeared to be drivers in uniforms and not medically trained), they refused to even let us tell them what had happened.
I partially stepped into the back of the ambulance concerned for the poor lady, to find no medical equipment visible whatsoever. We were shooed off and some of her family were left on the street in tears with no idea as to where the ambulance had gone.
There are numerous other distressing experiences I could relate, as can most pilgrims. But the insistence of some that the deaths of hundreds of people represented God’s will and were therefore unavoidable is something I refuse to accept.
I believe Islam is based on reason: unless you have done everything you can within your means to actively avoid a bad situation, you cannot use the excuse of it being God’s will.
Some people who have made the pilgrimage before describe how things are slowly getting better with time. And the Saudi authorities are denying visas to pilgrims if they have done it in the past five years, in an attempt to control the influx.
Heavy construction work is being completed at the mosque at the moment (the work indirectly led to the deaths of hundreds of people last month when one of the cranes fell through a roof at the Grand Mosque). But radical changes are required.
Much of the poor management of Haj stems from the actual functioning of Saudi Arabia itself. Authorities around the holy sites are clearly not allowed to make independent decisions, while members of the royal family and their guests are treated as VIPs, and therefore have no motivation to push the authorities into creating a safe and workable system.
‘Improvement work indirectly led to the deaths of hundreds of people last month when one of the cranes fell through a roof at the Grand Mosque.’ —Reuters
In Makkah I saw Muslims, but I saw little Islam. I did not see compassion from our hosts, I did not see their concern for our welfare.
I urge all Muslims, pilgrims or otherwise, not to just accept the above as part of the challenge or experience of Haj, but to raise their voices. Write to your local MP, write to the Muslim Council of Britain and utilise your local community groups to express your outrage, and add to the clamour already building in the international arena.
Pilgrimage is supposed to enlighten and change lives, not endanger or end them. It is time to reclaim it.
 
Press TV poll shows Saudi regime was to blame for Mina disaster
A recent Press TV poll shows that an overwhelming majority of people believe that Saudi authorities were to blame for the tragic human crush of September 24 in Mina, near Mecca, during Hajj pilgrimage.
The results of the opinion poll, released on Saturday, showed more than 82 percent of the respondents supported the idea that the Al Saud ruling family was to blame for the disaster.
Eleven percent of a total of 20,503 questioned in the survey, which began on September 27, said no one is to blame for the disaster, while some six percent agreed with Saudi Arabia that the pilgrims themselves and their indiscipline caused the deadly crush.
 
The majority of the respondents - or 5,152 people - in the poll were from the United States. In descending order, others included 1,923 from the United Kingdom, 1,420 from Canada, 485 people from Germany and 255 from Iran. Other nationalities constituted more than half of the participants in the survey.
 
Saudi Arabia claims nearly 770 people were killed in the incident, but officials at Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization say about 4,700 people, including over 460 Iranians, lost their lives.
A new tally by the Associated Press shows that at least 1,453 people were killed in the incident. The AP count is 684 higher than the official toll of 769 provided by Riyadh.
Iran, which says more than 460 of its nationals were killed in the crush, has slammed Riyadh’s way of handling the incident and its aftermath, and has laid the blame on the kingdom’s “incompetence” in managing the highly-significant ritual.