Saudi King Salman orders immediate review of Hajj arrangements

cnnpointRIYADH (CNN-POINT) — King Salman, whose official title is “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” in Mecca and Medina, ordered “a revision” of how the hajj is organised, state news agency SPA said.

A formal inquiry is under way.

On Friday, Salman told a reception for the heads of visiting hajj delegations that Riyadh is committed “to ensure the comfort of the visitors, and watch for their safety and security”.

During weekly prayers at Mecca s Grand Mosque, Sheikh Saleh al-Taleb defended the kingdom which, he said, “is capable of managing hajj affairs” without outsiders suggesting they can do better.

“It is unacceptable to ignore all the efforts” the country has made to improve infrastructure at the holy sites, he said.

Saudi Arabia has spent billion of dollars on hajj safety measures.

Health Minister Khaled al-Falih blamed worshippers themselves for the tragedy.

He told El-Ekhbariya television that if “the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided”.

Pilgrims, however, blamed the road closures and poor management of the flow of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in searing temperatures.

“People were stumbling, falling, trying to get up. They were dehydrated, getting disorientated, they were dying in front of our eyes,” said South African businessman Zaid Bayat, 43.

“They were suffocating. We tried to help revive them, but for every person you were helping there were 13, 14 others just falling down,” he said.

Pilgrims were converging on Mina s Jamarat Bridge to throw pebbles on the first day of the last major ritual of the hajj, which officially ends on Saturday.

The bridge was erected in the past decade at a cost of more than $1 billion (893 million euros) and was intended to improve safety after past disasters.

Interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki said “a large number of pilgrims were in motion at the same time” at an intersection of two streets in Mina.

“The great heat and fatigue of the pilgrims contributed to the large number of victims,” he said.

One outspoken critic of redevelopment at the holy sites said police were not properly trained and lacked the language skills for communicating with foreigners who make up the majority of pilgrims.

“They don t have a clue how to engage with these people,” said Irfan al-Alawi, co-founder of the Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation.

“There s no crowd control.”

The disaster came as the world s 1.5 billion Muslims marked Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, the most important holiday of the Islamic calendar.

It was the second major accident this year for pilgrims. A construction crane collapsed on September 11 at the Grand Mosque, Islam s holiest site, killing 109 people including many foreigners.

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