DUBAI: The September stampede during the Haj in Saudi Arabia killed at least 2,411 pilgrims, a new Associated Press count shows, three times the number of deaths acknowledged by the kingdom three months later.
The AP figures establish the Sept 24 crush at Mina as the deadliest in the history of the annual pilgrimage which occurred just weeks after a fatal crane collapse in Makkah.
Saudi Arabia rebuffed criticism from its regional rival Iran and efforts by other countries to join a probe into the deaths. And while King Salman ordered an investigation into the tragedy almost immediately, few details have been made public since.
The AP count is based on state media reports and officials’ comments from 36 of the over 180 countries that sent citizens to the Haj. Hundreds of pilgrims remain missing. The official Saudi toll of 769 people killed has not changed since Sept 26, and officials there have yet to address the discrepancy.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency has not mentioned the investigation into the disaster since Oct 19, when it reported that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is also the kingdom’s interior minister, was “reassured on the progress of the investigations.”
The crown prince is the next in line to the throne and any blame cast on the interior ministry, which oversees safety during the Haj, could reflect negatively on him.
The ruling Al-Saud family maintains its major influence in the Muslim world through its oil wealth and its management of Islam’s holiest sites. Like Saudi monarchs before him, King Salman has taken the title of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
Authorities have said the Mina stampede occurred when two waves of pilgrims converged on a narrow road, suffocating or trampling to death those caught in the disaster.
Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars on crowd control and safety measures for those attending the annual five-day pilgrimage, required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life, but the sheer number of participants makes ensuring their safety difficult.
The Haj this year drew some 2 million pilgrims, though in recent years it has drawn more than 3 million without any major incidents.
Iran was most affected by the disaster, according to the AP count, with 464 Iranian pilgrims killed. Mali said it lost 305 people, while Nigeria lost 274 and 190 pilgrims from Egypt were killed.
Others include Bangladesh with 137 pilgrims killed; Indonesia with 129; India with 120; Cameroon with 103; Pakistan with 102; Niger with 92; Senegal with 61; Ethiopia with 53; Ivory Coast with 52; Benin with 50; Algeria with 46; Chad with 43; Morocco with 42; Sudan with 30; Tanzania with 25; Burkina Faso with 22; Kenya with 12; Somalia with 10; Ghana, Tunisia and Turkey each with seven; Libya and Myanmar with six apiece; China with four; Afghanistan, Djibouti, the Gambia and Jordan with two each; and Lebanon, Malaysia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka each with one.
The second deadliest incident at Haj was a 1990 stampede that killed 1,426 people. The Sept 11 crane collapse at Makkah’s Grand Mosque, which preceded the Mina disaster, killed 111 people.