Union External Affairs ministry has confirmed that fourteen Indians were among the 717 pilgrims killed in a horrific stampede at the holy city of Mina during the Haj pilgrimage on Thursday morning. The tragedy at the holiest pilgrimage site for the Muslims further left more than 860 pilgrims injured, which included 13 Indian nationals. As per the reports so far, the stampede out-broke after a sudden surge in the number of pilgrims heading to Jamarat to take part in the last major rite of the Haj – the symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing stones at the three pillars.
“18 Indian Hajis are now confirmed dead,” said the spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs, Vikas Swarup.
According to the eyewitnesses, the stampede happened at the entrance of the Jamarat bridge near Street 204, and not inside of the area where the stoning pillars are. Confirming the casualties, the Saudi civil defence authority said that 717 pilgrims from different nationalities have died in the tragedy.
Detailing about the rescue efforts, the Civil Defence Authority said more than 4,000 people were taking part in rescue efforts, along with 220 ambulances.
Expressing grief over the tragic incident, President Pranab Mukherjee, in his message to King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, said, “I am deeply saddened by the tragic incident at Mina today, during which a large number of Haj pilgrims lost their lives and several others suffered injuries. On behalf of the Government and the people of India and on my own behalf, I express my sincere condolences to the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to the families of the deceased pilgrims”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has expressed his condolences on the tragedy.
“Distressing news from Mecca… Pained at loss of lives due to the stampede. Condolences to families of the deceased & prayers with the injured,” Mr. Modi wrote on the micro-blogging site Twitter.
Among other prominent leaders, Congress party President Sonia Gandhi expressed deep shock and distress over the deaths and injuries in a stampede in Mecca. Ms Gandhi further prayed for the well being of the Haj pilgrims and hoped that Indian citizens in Mina were safe.
Incidentally, the tragedy has come barely two weeks after 109 people were killed and several left wounded when a massive construction crane overlooking the holy Grand Mosque in Saudi pilgrim city of Mecca had collapsed. Two Indian nationals, residents of Kerala, too had lost their lives in the freak accident.
According to the Haj officials, the pilgrimage has been incident free for nearly a decade, mainly due to series of safety measures on the part of authorities. The last big incident happened in the year 2006, when at least 364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede during the stoning ritual in Mina.
Note: The Government of India has released following Helpline numbers for the information regarding Haj pilgrims: 00966125458000, 00966125496000
Toll free number for pilgrims: 8002477786
(With inputs from the PTI/Agencies)