Iran demands Saudi apology for haj deaths


Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Sunday demanded Saudi Arabia apologize for this week’s haj stampede in which 769 pilgrims died in the worst disaster in the annual pilgrimage in 25 years.

“The Saudis, instead of shifting blame onto others and incriminating this or that, must accept their responsibility and apologize to the Islamic Ummah [nation] and their bereaved families,” Khameini said in a statement released by his office.

“This issue will not be forgotten and the nations will seriously follow it,” he added.

Saudi Health Minister Khaled al-Falah has suggested that the crush, which occurred on Thursday during a stone-throwing ritual in the Saudi holy town of Mina, had resulted from pilgrims’ failure to follow instructions.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz ordered a safety review in the wake of the stampede, which came almost two weeks after 108 people were killed in a construction crane collapse in the Grand Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Mecca.

Iran has in the past few days been scathingly critical of its regional rival, Saudi Arabia, accusing it of mishandling the haj.

Saudi media has accused Iran of trying to make political gains from the catastrophe.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, and Iran back opposite warring parties in Syria and Yemen.

While the Saudi authorities have not yet provided a breakdown of the victims of the stampede, Iran said that 144 of its pilgrims died in the crush.

Egypt reported 55 deaths among its pilgrims.

There were 29 and 22 pilgrims among the dead from India and Indonesia respectively.

At least 18 Pakistanis died, while Algeria said seven of its citizens perished in the stampede.

The haj, one of Islam’s five pillars, ended on Sunday.

Around 1.9 million Muslims attended this year’s haj, according to Saudi officials.

In recent years, the Islamic pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia has been marred by deaths resulting from stampedes and fires.

In 1990, 1,426 pilgrims died in a stampede inside a tunnel after the ventilation system broke down.

Seven years later, 343 pilgrims were killed in a massive fire that gutted their tents in Mina, around 10 kilometres east of Mecca.

In 2006, 364 pilgrims were crushed to death during the symbolic stoning of the devil in Mina.

The oil-rich kingdom has spent lavishly to boost haj safety standards, mainly during the stone-throwing ritual.

Muslims are expected to perform the pilgrimage at least once during their lifetimes if they have the financial and physical means to do so.