International News

Muslim Pilgrims Stone Satan After Fatal Stampede
by Nadim Ladki - Reuters, Tuesday March 6 6:27 AM ET
Posted: Tuesday, March 06, 2001 04:45 pm CST

MENA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Muslim haj pilgrims threw pebbles at three pillars on Tuesday in a ritual symbolizing the stoning of Satan, a day after at least 35 worshippers died in a stampede.

Undeterred by the deaths, pilgrims packed the one-mile Jamarat Bridge in Mena outside Mecca in Saudi Arabia and pelted the concrete pillars to chants of ``In the name of God, God is Greatest.''

At least 35 people, including 23 women, were crushed to death or suffocated on the bridge on Monday, the first day of the devil-stoning ritual, as overzealous pilgrims tried to push their way through to the main pillar, a Saudi official said.

A Saudi source later said the death toll had risen to 38, but there was no official confirmation of this.

Victims Said To Be From Pakistan, India, Bangladesh

Pakistani haj officials said on Tuesday that a seventh Pakistani pilgrim was reported dead, Pakistan's news agency APP said. It earlier said five Pakistani women and a man were among the dead.

More than 24 hours after the incident, Saudi officials had not released the nationalities of the victims. But Saudi sources said that most of the dead and some of the injured were from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

Egyptians, Algerians, Turks and Moroccans were also among some 170 pilgrims injured in the stampede. About 80 of them were hospitalized, the sources said. Some were said to be in a serious condition.

The stoning ritual reached its peak in the early afternoon on Tuesday. Crowds were moving smoothly under the watchful eyes of hundreds of police as loudspeaker announcements in eight languages guided the pilgrims, who were given free chilled water in temperatures that reached 95 Fahrenheit.

Police formed human chains to limit the number of people going through to the pillars. Medical teams stood by and helicopters hovered above.

Monday's accident appeared not to have dimmed the enthusiasm of the pilgrims. ``It was unfortunate what happened yesterday,'' said Abdullah, from Egypt. ``But accidents happen and let's hope it will not be repeated.''

Overcrowding On Bridge Led To Deaths

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef expressed grief at the deaths, according to local newspapers. He said that they occurred because many pilgrims had arrived on the bridge at the same time and rushed to complete their rituals.

He urged Muslim countries to intensify programs to make pilgrims more aware of performing rituals safely.

Official Saudi figures showed that 1.36 million pilgrims from around the world performed the haj this year, joined by 440,000 from inside the kingdom.

The pilgrims will sleep in Mena, another holy site near Mecca, for another night before a third day of devil-stoning on Wednesday, the fifth and last day of the haj.

Monday's tragedy occurred as the world's one billion Muslims began celebrating Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, which marks God's last-minute command to Abraham to slaughter a sheep after asking him to sacrifice his son to test Abraham's faith.

The five-day haj has been marred by similar fatal incidents in recent years. The biggest reported tragedy was in 1990 when 1,426 pilgrims were crushed to death in a stampede in a tunnel.

A fatal fire in 1997 led Saudi Arabia to spend millions of dollars on fire-proof tents.

The pilgrims prayed for mercy and forgiveness at Mount Arafat on Sunday, the high point of the haj, and on Monday sacrificed hundreds of thousands of cows, sheep and camels at the start of the four-day Eid.

Before leaving for home on Wednesday, pilgrims will return to Mecca for another round of circling the cube-shaped Kaaba, which Muslims worldwide turn to when they pray five times a day.

Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can afford the trip must complete the haj at least once in their lifetime. Muslims believe that pilgrims who perform it with a sincere heart return home as pure as the day they were born.

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