More than 700 pilgrims lost their lives in a stampede that occurred outside the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

According to authorities, this has been the worst disaster to occur during the annual Hajj in the past 25 years.

Apart from the deaths, it is estimated that 863 people were injured at Mina, located towards the east of Mecca. The disaster is said to have been caused when two pilgrim groups ended up at a crossroads simultaneously while they were on their way to the Jamarat for the ritual of “stoning the devil.”

In 1990, Saudi witnessed an equally disastrous stampede where 1,426 people were said to have been killed. Both these disasters took place on the Eid al-Adha or Feast of the Sacrifice, an important day for the Muslims everywhere.

Pictures published by Saudi Defense and posted on Twitter show injured pilgrims being carried away in stretchers and emergency workers responding to the situation. Workers were also seen trying to revive victims.

The Hajj is an annual gathering of Muslims who come from various corners of the world. It has frequently been ground zero for stampedes, riots, and other disasters. However, the frequency has been lower in recent years as the Saudi government has spent billions on improving infrastructure and crowd control technology.

Mansour Turki, spokesperson for the ministry, told the media that the concerned authorities would investigate the matter to find out what might have caused the incident. A committee has been created under the orders of the crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdelaziz. Investigative reports will be submitted to King Salman.

Hajj related safety measures have been a sensitive topic for the Kingdom’s rulers, the Al Saud dynasty. This has primarily been due to the location being the center of orthodox Islam and one of the holiest areas in Mecca and Medina.

The exact location of the stampede was Street 204 in Jamarat. This street is known to be one of the main connections between Jamarat and Mina. Jamarat saw a similar stampede in 2006, where 346 pilgrims were killed.

Safety measures have been in place at Jamarat including the installation of a three deck bridge that increased the entry and exit points, along with the area. The area is also monitored by several video cameras and over 90,000 police officers, with a special focus on crowd control.


Follow the Conversation on Twitter