Seven hundred and seventeen pilgrims and possibly more were killed Thursday in a stampede outside Mecca the holy Muslim city said Saudi Arabia authorities. It was the worst disaster to hit the annual haj pilgrimage in over 25 years.
More than 800 others were injured in the stampede at Mina, just a few kilometers to the east of Mecca. The incident was caused by two huge groups of pilgrims that arrived together at two crossroads making their way to the stoning the devil in Jamarat, said Saudi officials.
The disaster on Thursday is the worst to hit the annual event since July of 1990 when over 1,425 pilgrims died inside a tunnel close to Mecca.
Both of the stampedes took place on Eid al-Adha the Feast of Sacrifice, the most important feast in Islam and the day of the stoning ritual.
Photos published on Twitter of the stampede showed bodies on the ground, on stretchers and many were being lifted into waiting ambulances.
The haj is the largest annual gathering in the world of people and has seen numerous deadly stampede, riots and fires during the past, but the frequency of them has been reduced greatly of recent as the Saudi government spent billions upgrading as well as expanding the haj overall infrastructure and the use of technology related to crowd control.
Safety at haj is a very sensitive issue politically for the ruling Al Saud dynasty in the kingdom, which presents itself as the international guardian of orthodox Islam and the custodian of the holiest places in Median and Mecca.
Video that has been unverified posted to Twitter shows many bodes clad in just white toweling lying on the ground next to the road with debris surrounding them as the pilgrims and rescue personnel attempted to aid them.
On Street 204 where the incident occurred, is one of two main arteries that lead through Mina into Jamarat, the site where pilgrims stone the devil by throwing pebbles at three pillars.