244 pilgrims killed in hajj stampede | india | Hindustan Times
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244 pilgrims killed in hajj stampede

At least 244 pilgrims were crushed to death and same number injured in a stampede during the hajj pilgrimage, a Saudi minister said.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2004 11:20 IST

At least 244 Muslim pilgrims were crushed to death and the same number injured in a stampede during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, a Saudi minister said.

"There were 244 pilgrims who died in the incident in Jamarat and 244 who were injured," Pilgrimage Affairs and Endowments Minister Iyad bin Amin Madani told reporters without giving a breakdown of the nationalities.

Two million pilgrims had flocked to Jamarat Bridge in Mena to throw pebbles at pillars representing the devil. Police and medical teams said dozens were crushed to death, but could not immediately give an exact figure.

"This morning there was a heavy crush among pilgrims throwing pebbles. Several pilgrims stumbled and some were killed," the state Saudi Press Agency quoted an Interior Ministry official as saying.

Hundreds of thousands of people were walking over and under the 15-metre (50 ft) wide bridge which spans a small valley between two cliffs.

The hajj has witnessed deadly stampedes almost every year. In 1990, 1,426 pilgrims were crushed to death in a pedestrian tunnel at the holy city of Mecca.

Police cordoned off the area around the main pillar after Sunday's crush and urged people to cast pebbles from a distance.

Muslims believe the pillar marks the spot where the devil appeared to biblical patriarch Abraham.

"It happened a short time ago. There were people crushing down from the bridge," Egyptian pilgrim Hisham Mahmoud said.

Mena is on the pilgrimage route from Mecca in western Saudi Arabia to nearby Mount Arafat.

Last year 14 people were trampled to death as huge crowds thronged the area. In 2001 at least 35 people died in a stampede at the bridge and 119 died in a similar incident in 1998.

The hajj has also seen armed uprisings and bombings.

A massive security operation has been mounted this year. Thousands of troops have been deployed in the kingdom, a US ally, amid fears of a possible attack by Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.

Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, on Sunday.

Hajj is mandatory once in a lifetime for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. Pilgrims begin the ritual by retracing the footsteps of Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago.