Hajj Stampede Toll Climbs to 1,453

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DUBAI: The crush and stampede last month outside holy city of Makkah killed at least 1,453 people during the hajj, a new tally showed Friday to make it the deadliest event to ever strike the annual pilgrimage. 

The Associated Press count is 684 higher than Saudi Arabia’s official tally of 769 killed and 934 injured in the September 24 disaster in Mina.

With hundreds missing, a final death toll remains in question and Saudi Arabia has been hesitant to release updated casualty figures. Saudi officials previously have said their tally remains accurate. Authorities have not updated their casualty toll since September 26, two days after the disaster.

The previous deadliest-ever incident happened in 1990, when a stampede killed 1,426 people. The AP figure comes from statements and officials’ comments from 19 of the over 180 countries that sent citizens to the five-day annual pilgrimage. Authorities have said the September 24 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. Iran says it had 465 pilgrims killed, while Egypt lost 148 and Indonesia 120.

Others include India with 101, Nigeria with 99, Pakistan with 93, Mali with 70, Bangladesh with 63, Senegal with 54, Benin with 51, Cameroon with 42, Ethiopia with 31, Sudan with 30, Morocco with 27, Algeria with 25, Ghana with 12, Chad with 11, Kenya with eight and Turkey with three. Hundreds remain missing, according to these countries.

Iran and Indonesia, two leading Muslim powers, have blamed the disaster on the kingdom’s “mismanagement” with Tehran even accusing Riyadh of a cover-up, saying the real death toll exceeds 4,700. 

This season saw two disasters striking the Hajj season, including the Sept. 11 collapse of a crane at  Grand Mosque that killed 111 people.

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. 

The worst tragedy comes as Saudi Arabia faces threats ranging from an Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) insurgency, a war in Yemen, intervention in Bahrain and weakening global oil prices gnawing away at its reserves.

The kingdom has suffered gun and bomb attacks by extremists like ISIL. Like al-Qaeda before it, ISIL opposes the Saudi royal family’s control over the holy sites.

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.”

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