Hajj disasters: Stampedes, infernos and a bloody siege

13 Jun 2024 08:30am
The view of the Grand Mosque of the Makkah on June 12, 2024, in conjunction with the Hajj season 1445H/2024 was recorded from the Makkah Clock Tower or the popular name "Abraj Al-Bait Tower" is the highest in the world with a height of 595 M. - Photo by Bernama
The view of the Grand Mosque of the Makkah on June 12, 2024, in conjunction with the Hajj season 1445H/2024 was recorded from the Makkah Clock Tower or the popular name "Abraj Al-Bait Tower" is the highest in the world with a height of 595 M. - Photo by Bernama
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MECCA - It is Islam's holiest pilgrimage, but the hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia has in recent decades been plagued by deadly disasters, from stampedes to militant attacks.

Yet the last time the pilgrimage was cancelled outright was in 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt.

The coronavirus pandemic did, however, force the kingdom to radically downscale the 2020 event, allowing just a few thousand people to participate, a far cry from the 2.5 million believers who did so in 2019.

Last year, with pandemic-era restrictions scrapped, the hajj drew more than 1.8 million pilgrims, according to official figures.

Here are some recent incidents that have marred the centuries-old pilgrimage:

- Stampedes -

2015 - A stampede during the "stoning of the devil" ritual in Mina, near Mecca, kills up to 2,300 worshippers on Sept 24 in the worst hajj disaster ever.

It comes after more than 100 people are killed and hundreds injured, including many foreigners, when stormy weather topples a crane onto Mecca's Grand Mosque less than two weeks before the pilgrimage.

2006 - Some 364 pilgrims die in a stampede on Jan 12 during the Mina stoning ritual, in which hajj participants throw pebbles at three pillars to symbolise their rejection of Satan.

This follows a hotel collapse a week earlier in the city centre, which kills 76 people.

The previous year, three pilgrims are crushed to death in a stampede on Jan 22 at the stoning ceremony.

2004 - 251 people die after a huge stampede at the stoning ceremony on Feb 1.

1998 - More than 118 people are killed and 180 injured in a stampede in Mina on April 9.

1994 - During the Mina stoning on May 24, a stampede kills 270 people, with authorities citing "record numbers" of pilgrims as the cause.

1990 - The failure of a tunnel ventilation system triggers a huge stampede on July 2 that kills 1,426 pilgrims, mainly from Asia.

- Attacks -

1989 - A twin attack on the outside of the Grand Mosque on July 10 kills one and wounds 16. Weeks later, 16 Kuwaiti Shiites are found guilty and executed.

1979 - Hundreds of gunmen calling for the abdication of the Saudi royal family barricade themselves inside Mecca's Grand Mosque on Nov 20, taking dozens of pilgrims hostage. The official toll of the assault and subsequent fighting, which occurs after the hajj is completed, is 153 dead and 560 wounded.

- Protests -

1987 - Saudi security forces suppress an unauthorised protest by Iranian pilgrims on July 31 in which more than 400 people including 275 Iranians are killed, according to an official toll.

- Infernos -

1997 - A fire on April 15 caused by a gas stove rips through a camp housing pilgrims at Mina, killing 343 and injuring around 1,500.

1995 - Three people die and 99 are injured on May 7 in a fire at the Mina camp.

1975 - A huge fire on Dec 14 started by an exploding gas canister in a pilgrim camp close to Mecca kills 200 people. - AFP