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Friday, September 11, 2015

At least 1000 killed by falling crane at Grand Mosque in Mecca and then at Mina Stampede!

New tally in Saudi hajj disaster shows at least 1,399 killed By JON GAMBRELL Oct. 8, 2015 6:31 PM EDT 2 photos Mideast Iran Saudi Hajj In this Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, file photo, an Iranian mourner weeps during a funeral ceremony,... Read more DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The crush and stampede last month outside of Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca killed at least 1,399 people during the hajj pilgrimage, a new tally Thursday showed, 630 more than the kingdom's official toll. The Associated Press count of the dead from the worst tragedy to strike the hajj in a quarter-century comes as Saudi Arabia faces threats ranging from an Islamic State insurgency, a war in Yemen against Shiite rebels and weakening global oil prices gnawing away at its reserves. Any disaster at the hajj, a pillar of Islamic faith, could be seen as a blow to the kingdom's cherished stewardship of Islam's holiest sites. This season saw two, including the Sept. 11 collapse of a crane at Mecca's Grand Mosque that killed 111 people. Saudi Arabia has been hesitant to release updated casualty figures from the Sept. 24 stampede in Mina, even as hundreds remain missing. "Discrediting the Saudi handling of the hajj undermines the kingdom's prestige and legitimacy across the Islamic world," Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who now runs the Washington-based Brookings Institution's intelligence project, wrote on one of the think tank's blogs this week. The AP count of the dead is based on tolls offered by 18 of the over 100 countries that took part in the hajj this year. Iran said it had 465 pilgrims killed, while Egypt lost 148 and Indonesia 120. Others include Nigeria with 99, Pakistan with 89, India with 81, Mali with 70, Bangladesh with 63, Senegal with 54, Benin with 51, Cameroon with 42, Ethiopia with 31, Morocco with 27, Algeria with 25, Ghana with 12, Chad with 11, Kenya with eight and Turkey with three. Saudi officials have said their official figure of 769 killed and 934 injured remains accurate, though an investigation into the causes of the tragedy is ongoing and authorities have not updated the casualty toll since Sept. 26, two days after the disaster. Authorities have said the crush and stampede occurred when two waves of pilgrims converged on a narrow road, causing hundreds of people to suffocate or be trampled to death. Shiite power Iran, Sunni Saudi Arabia's Mideast rival, has blamed the disaster on the kingdom's "mismanagement" and accused Riyadh of a cover-up, saying the real death toll exceeds 4,700, without providing evidence to support the claim. Iran has called for an independent body to take over planning and administering the five-day hajj pilgrimage, required of all able Muslims once in their lifetimes. But the ruling Al Saud family likely would never give up its role in administering the holy sites, which along with Saudi Arabia's oil wealth gives it major influence in the Muslim world. King Salman himself is known as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The dispute comes as Saudi Arabia leads a coalition in Yemen's civil war targeting Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who have backing from Iran. Meanwhile, the kingdom has suffered gun and bomb attacks by an affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group, which holds a third of Iraq and Syria in its self-declared "caliphate." Like al-Qaida before it, the Islamic State group opposes the Saudi royal family's control over the holy sites, especially as Saudi Arabia is a member of the U.S.-led coalition targeting the militant group in airstrikes. With hundreds missing, a final death toll remains in question, even as the latest count brings the number of dead even closer to the deadliest disaster to ever strike the hajj — a stampede in 1990 that killed 1,426 people. Recent Indian documents on the Mina disaster refer to at least 2,046 photographs of the dead, though its consular officials say some bodies were photographed multiple times. Indonesia's religious affairs minister, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, said Thursday his country's diplomats have seen more than 2,000 photos purportedly of dead from the disaster, without elaborating. Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics, said bureaucratic confusion may be partly to blame for the discrepancies in death counts because there was not one centralized place that the dead and injured were taken. But, he said, political considerations were also likely a factor, adding: "It's bad news, and you want to sweep bad news under the rug." "The Saudi kingdom should come out and provide a tally. Transparency is the most powerful card that they have," he said. "This speaks a great deal about the anxiety and political sensitivity that Saudi officials feel." ___ Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Dubai; Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia; Nirmala George in New Delhi; Julhas Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh; Baba Ahmed, Virgile Ahissou and Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal; Michelle Faul in Lagos, Nigeria, and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report. ========================================= The presence of the convoy of the son of the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in central Mina prompted the stampede that killed hundreds of pilgrims on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca, a report says. The Arabic-language daily al-Diyar said in a report on Thursday that the convoy of Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud played a central role in the deadly crush on the third day of the annual Hajj pilgrimage earlier in the day. The report said that Salman, who had sought to attend the huge gathering of pilgrims in Mina, a large valley about five kilometers (three miles) from Mecca, arrived at the site early on Thursday accompanied by a huge entourage. The report said 200 army forces and 150 police officers escorted the prince. The report said the presence of the prince in the middle of the population prompted a change in the direction of the movement of the pilgrims and a stampede. The Lebanese daily further said that Salman and his entourage swiftly abandoned the scene, adding that the Saudi authorities seek to hush up the entire story and impose a media blackout on Salman’s presence in the area. However, officials in Saudi Arabia have denied the report, calling it "incorrect." The Saudi health minister has blamed the pilgrims for the tragedy. "If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided," Khaled al-Falih said. According to Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization more than 1,300 people, including 125 Iranians, were killed in the crush. This as Saudi officials put the death toll at 717 and the number of injured at 863. Saudi emergency personnel stand near bodies of Hajj pilgrims at the site where hundreds were killed and hundreds more were wounded in a stampede in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca on September 24, 2015. (AFP photo) Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has declared three days of national mourning following the incident while urging the Saudi government to “shoulder its heavy responsibility” in the stampede and “meet its obligations in compliance with the rule of righteousness and fairness.” Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Thursday that Saudi Arabia should be held accountable over the death of the pilgrims. He said that the fatal crush started after Saudi security forces blocked two streets while the pilgrims were walking towards the final ritual of the Hajj. "We can by no means remain indifferent towards Saudi Arabia's irresponsible behavior," said Amir-Abdollahian, adding, “The tactlessness on the part of relevant Saudi authorities to provide security for the pilgrims cannot be overlooked.” Fri Sep 11, 2015 | 10:35 PM EDT DUBAI, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's United Cooperative Assurance said on Sunday it had received a claim from Saudi Binladin Group over the collapse of one of the construction firm's cranes this month at the Grand Mosque in Mecca that killed more than 100 people. The insurance firm said it had received the claim on Sept. 13 and it had appointed evaluators licensed by the country's banking regulator to determine the damage caused by the accident, a bourse filing said. At least 107 people were killed when a crane toppled over at Mecca's Grand Mosque on Sept. 11, leading Saudi Arabia to suspend Binladin from new contracts and order a review of existing projects. United Cooperative Assurance said it would announce any developments in due course and the estimated value and financial impact of the incident would appear in fourth-quarter financial statements. However, the firm added its coverage related to the client was more than 98 percent covered by reinsurers. (Reporting by Hadeel Al Sayegh; Editing by David French and Mark Potter) An aerial view shows Muslim worshippers praying at the Grand mosque surrounded by construction cranes, in the holy city of Mecca in this July 14, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Ali Al Qarni/Files An aerial view shows Muslim worshippers praying at the Grand mosque surrounded by construction cranes, in the holy city of Mecca in this July 14, 2015 file photo. Reuters/Ali Al Qarni/Files Construction cranes surround the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca in this January 6, 2013 file photo as Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray during Umrah. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Files Construction cranes surround the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca in this January 6, 2013 file photo as Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray during Umrah. Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Files An aerial view shows Muslim worshippers praying at the Grand mosque surrounded by construction cranes, in the holy city of Mecca in this July 14, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Ali Al Qarni/Files An aerial view shows Muslim worshippers praying at the Grand mosque surrounded by construction cranes, in the holy city of Mecca in this July 14, 2015 file photo. Reuters/Ali Al Qarni/Files Construction cranes surround the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca in this January 6, 2013 file photo as Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray during Umrah. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Files Construction cranes surround the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca in this January 6, 2013 file photo as Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray during Umrah. Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Files › At least 107 killed by falling crane at Grand...X RIYADH (Reuters) - At least 107 people were killed when a crane toppled over at Mecca's Grand Mosque on Friday, Saudi Arabia's Civil Defence authority said, less than two weeks before Islam's annual haj pilgrimage. At least 238 people were wounded, Saudi Arabia's Civil Defence body said. "All those who were wounded and the dead have been taken to hospital. There are no casualties left at the location," General Suleiman al-Amr, director general of the Civil Defence Authority, told al-Ikhbariya television. Strong wind and rains had uprooted trees and rocked cranes in the area, he said. A statement by a spokesman for the administration of the mosques in Mecca and Medina said the crane smashed into the part of the Grand Mosque where worshippers circle the Kaaba - the black-clad cube towards which the world's 1.6 billion Muslims face to pray. Pictures circulating on social media showed pilgrims in bloodied robes and debris from a part of the crane that appeared to have crashed through a ceiling. Saudi authorities go to great lengths to prepare for the millions of Muslims who converge on Mecca to perform the sacred pilgrimage. Last year, they reduced the numbers permitted to make the haj pilgrimage on safety grounds because of construction work to enlarge the Grand Mosque. The haj, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, has been prone to disasters in the past, mainly from stampedes as pilgrims rush to complete rituals and return home. Hundreds of pilgrims died in such a crush in 2006. Saudi authorities have since spent vast sums to expand the main haj sites and improve Mecca's transport system, in an effort to prevent more disasters. Security services often ring Islam's sacred city with checkpoints and other measures to prevent people arriving for the pilgrimage without authorization. Those procedures, aimed at reducing crowd pressure which can lead to stampedes, fires and other hazards, have been intensified in recent years as security threats grow throughout the Middle East. (Reporting by Ali Abdelaty in Cairo; Additional reporting by Mostafa Hashem; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Andrew Roche and Christian Plumb) ==================== Death toll in Saudi haj crush rises to 150: Saudi civil defense Death toll in Saudi haj crush rises to 150: Saudi...X DUBAI (Reuters) - The death toll in a crush of people at the annual haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia has risen to 150, the country's civil defense said on its Twitter account. The report said the number of people injured in the incident outside the Muslim holy city of Mecca stood at 400. MINA / MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia’s crown prince ordered an investigation into the stampede at the Hajj pilgrimage, the official Saudi Press Agency reported. Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who chairs the Saudi Hajj committee, ordered the probe during a meeting with senior officials responsible for the pilgrimage in Mina, where the stampede took place. The findings of the investigation will be submitted to King Salman, “who will take appropriate measures” in response, the agency added. Thursday’s tragedy comes on the heels of another one, in which 108 people were killed when a massive construction crane collapsed on Mecca’s Grand Mosque on September 11 as thousands were gathering for the Hajj. At the time, Nayef said the accident would not affect this year’s pilgrimage and that the safety of pilgrims was a “priority”. Earlier Thursday, Health Minister Khaled al Faleh promised that there would be a rapid and transparent investigation of the stampede, which he blamed on undisciplined pilgrims not following instructions. The health minister was quoted by El Ekhbariya television as saying “many pilgrims move without respecting the timetables” established by authorities, which was the “principal reason for this type of accident.” “If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided.” Read: At least 717 pilgrims killed, 805 injured in Hajj stampede at Mina At least 717 pilgrims died while another 805 were wounded in a stampede during the stoning of Satan at Mina, the Saudi civil defence said. The pilgrims were killed in a crush at Mina, outside the holy city of Makkah, where some two million people are performing the annual Hajj pilgrimage. ‘Safety errors’ Earlier, Iran had accused Saudi Arabia of safety errors after at least 15 of its citizens died in the stampede. Read: Iran accuses Saudi of Hajj safety errors after stampede The head of Iran’s Hajj organisation, Said Ohadi, said that for “unknown reasons” two paths had been closed off near the scene of the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual where the accident later took place. “This caused this tragic incident,” he said on Iranian state television, giving the death toll, indicating that fatalities and casualties could rise. Ohadi said the path closures had left only three routes to the area where the stoning ceremony was held. =========================== Thu Sep 24, 2015 | 7:01 PM EDT More than 700 pilgrims die in crush in worst haj disaster for 25 years 4:38 PM EDT | 01:27 Saudi Arabia calls for haj stampede investigation More than 700 pilgrims die in crush in worst haj By Nidal al-Mughrabi MINA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - At least 717 pilgrims from around the world were killed on Thursday in a crush outside the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi authorities said, in the worst disaster to strike the annual haj pilgrimage for 25 years. At least 863 others were injured. Saudi King Salman said he had ordered a review of haj plans after the disaster, in which two large groups of pilgrims arrived together at a crossroads in Mina, a few kilometers east of Mecca, on their way to performing the "stoning of the devil" ritual at Jamarat. Thursday's disaster was the worst to occur at the pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims suffocated in a tunnel near Mecca. Both incidents occurred on Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), Islam's most important feast and the day of the stoning ritual. Photographs published on the Twitter feed of Saudi civil defense on Thursday showed pilgrims lying on stretchers while emergency workers in high-visibility jackets lifted them into an ambulance. Other images showed bodies of men in white haj garments piled on top of each other. Some corpses bore visible injuries. Unverified video posted on Twitter showed pilgrims and rescue workers trying to revive some victims. The haj, the world's largest annual gathering of people, has been the scene of numerous deadly stampedes, fires and riots in the past, but their frequency has been greatly reduced in recent years as the government spent billions of dollars upgrading and expanding haj infrastructure and crowd control technology. Safety during haj is a politically sensitive issue for the kingdom's ruling Al Saud dynasty, which presents itself internationally as the guardian of orthodox Islam and custodian of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina. BLAME Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the Saudi government should accept responsibility for the crush, in which more than 100 Iranian nationals were reported to have died. "The Saudi government should accept the responsibility of this sorrowful incident ... Mismanagement and improper actions have caused this catastrophe," Khamenei said in a statement published on his website. King Salman offered deep condolences. "We have instructed concerned authorities to review the operations plan ... (and) to raise the level of organization and management to ensure that the guests of God perform their rituals in comfort and ease," the monarch said. Saudi government responsible for haj 'catastrophe': Iran leader The Interior Ministry spokesman, Mansour Turki said the investigation would look into what caused an unusual mass of pilgrims to congregate at the location of the disaster. "The reason for that is not known yet," he told a news conference in Mina. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the White House offered condolences. "The United States expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the hundreds of haj pilgrims killed and hundreds more injured in the heartbreaking stampede in Mina, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," White House spokesman Ned Price said. Iran's Tasnim and Fars news agencies reported that 125 Iranians were among the dead. Fars reported that Tehran summoned the Saudi charge d'affaires to lodge an official complaint over the disaster. South African Acting President Cyril Ramaphosa extended condolences to families of the victims and said his government was awaiting information about his country's pilgrims. ============================================ Fri Sep 25, 2015 | 4:51 PM EDT Saudi suggests pilgrims at fault over haj deaths, Iran angry Fri, Sep 25 2015 | 00:52 Iranians protest haj deaths Saudi suggests pilgrims at fault over haj deaths,...X By Nidal al-Mughrabi MINA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia on Friday suggested pilgrims ignoring crowd control rules bore some blame for a crush that killed over 700 people at the haj pilgrimage in the annual event's worst disaster for 25 years. The kingdom's regional rival Iran expressed outrage at the deaths of 131 of its nationals at the world's largest annual gathering of people, and politicians in Tehran suggested Riyadh was incapable of managing the event. Hundreds of demonstrators protested in the Iranian capital, chanting "Death to the Saudi dynasty". With pilgrims frantically searching for missing compatriots and photographs of piles of the dead circulating on social media, the tragedy haunted many on the haj a day on. "There were layers of bodies, maybe three layers," said one witness who asked not to be named. "Some people were alive under the pile of bodies and were trying to climb up but in vain, because their strength failed and they dropped dead. "I felt helpless not to be able to save people. I saw them dying in front of my eyes," he told Reuters. An Algerian pilgrim told Algeria's al-Shurouk television: "We saw death: People were stepping over the mutilated bodies in front of you, four or five on top of each other." Saudi King Salman ordered a review of haj plans, and Health Minister Khalid al-Falih said an investigation would be conducted rapidly and a final toll of dead and wounded calculated. At least 863 pilgrims were injured in the disaster, in which two big groups of pilgrims collided at a crossroads in Mina, a few km (miles) east of Mecca, on their way to performing the "Stoning of the Devil" ritual at Jamarat. The stampede "was perhaps because some pilgrims moved without following instructions by the relevant authorities," the minister said in a statement. The kingdom's critics were likely to see the statement as an attempt to deflect responsibility. Safety during the haj is highly sensitive for the ruling Al Saud dynasty, which presents itself internationally as the guardian of orthodox Islam and custodian of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina. ADVERTISEMENT The effort to uncover the facts and assign blame was likely to grow more acute and possibly more political. "CATASTROPHE" A pilgrim who gave his name as Abu Abdallah said security forces appeared on high alert after the deaths. "What happened is a tragedy and many people ... are terrified, but in the end we can only pursue our haj duties," he said. Hakim, from Morocco, said: "It is simply scary to hear how people crushed one another. More frightening is that we do not know how it happened." The Saudi civil defense service reported on Twitter that a fire had occurred in three storage facilities in Mecca's al-Maaseem neighborhood, and 10 fire and rescue units were in attendance. No further details were immediately available. RELATED VIDEO Video 00:58 New video shows extent of haj disaster (graphic images) Video 01:28 Haj pilgrimage continues after stampede kills more than 700 Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, echoed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in blaming Saudi Arabia for the incident. "I ask the Saudi Arabian government to take responsibility for this catastrophe and fulfill its legal and Islamic duties in this regard," Rouhani said in a statement. Iranian state television said the demonstrators in Tehran were showing their anger at "Saudi incapability and incompetence to run the haj". "The world will not accept excuses like the weather was hot or the pilgrims were disorganized," Tehran Friday prayer leader Mohammed Emami-Kashani was quoted as saying by Fars news agency. Iran's deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian also called "Riyadh's negligence inexcusable" and announced a committee has been established to look into the incident. Iranian pilgrims who survived described Saudi's response "too little, too late," according to Iran's state run Press TV. They said rescuers arrived two hours after the incident and started collecting dead bodies first instead of helping the injured. Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour Turki was quoted in Saudi media on Friday as saying the security forces had immediately responded and begun to rescue those who fell in the crush. "This year's haj ceremony was disorganized as the Saudi government had hired young and inexperienced people," Saeed Ohadi, Head of Iran's haj and pilgrimage organization told Iran's state broadcaster in a live interview from Mecca. Speaking in New York, Pope Francis expressed "my sentiments of closeness" with Muslims after the tragedy. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the United States offered condolences. Former Iraqi Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, an ally of Iran and foe of Riyadh, said the incident was "proof of the incompetence of the organizers". He said the haj should be placed under the authority of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world's largest Muslim organization. (Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Sami Aboudi, Rania El Gamal, Angus McDowall, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, Katie Paul, Stephen Kalin, Writing by William Maclean, Editing by Tom Heneghan and John Stonestreet) ---------- A well-known Saudi online activist says the kingdom’s authorities had been warned against overcrowding and a lack of organization prior to the crush that reportedly killed some 2,000 pilgrims in Mina, in one of the worst tragedies to hit the Hajj pilgrimage. On Saturday, the activist known as @mujtahidd on Twitter wrote that closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras had recorded the excessive number of pilgrims nearly two hours before the September 24 stampede in Mina, located about five kilometers (three miles) east of the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The activist added that the Saudi officials in charge had contacted high-ranking authorities ahead of the disaster, calling for reinforcements to maintain safety and manage traffic and crowds, but all to no avail. Mojtahed further noted that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has also issued an order that footage from police cameras as well as all telephone conservations remain under seal. A security officer monitors Muslim pilgrims attending the annual hajj pilgrimage on CCTV screens at a security command center in Mina, Saudi Arabia, on September 25 2015, a day after a stampede killed nearly 2,000 people. (© AP) The revelations come as a host of pilgrims have stated that they are terrified to continue the ritual stoning of the devil in Mina due to what they call lack of organization and incompetency of Saudi security personnel in handling the affairs. The tragedy has cast doubt on the ability of Saudi authorities to manage the large influx of pilgrims into the kingdom during the Hajj pilgrimage season every year. Head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization Sa’eed Ohadi said Friday that nearly 2,000 people have lost their lives in the Mina tragedy. Muslim pilgrims gather around bodies of people crushed in Mina, Saudi Arabia, during the annual hajj pilgrimage on September 24, 2015. (© AP) This is while Saudi authorities say at least 717 people have been killed and nearly 863 others injured in the stampede. According to Saudi disaster officials, the incident occurred at around 9 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) after two large masses of pilgrims coming down streets 204 and 223 fused together. The incident took place as people were heading to participate in the symbolic stoning of Satan. It was the second deadly accident to strike Hajj pilgrims this month, after a massive crane collapse in Mecca killed more than 100 and left over 200 others wounded.

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