Pilgrims perform stoning ritual after over 700 killed in haj stampede

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Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims in Saudi Arabia performed a symbolic ritual where they throw pebbles at the devil on Friday in the same place where 717 faithful were killed in a stampede.

Thursday’s crush in the holy town of Mina near Mecca was the haj’s worst tragedy since 1990 when more than 1,400 pilgrims died in a stampede.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz ordered a safety review in the wake of the stampede.

While the Saudi authorities have not yet identified the nationalities of the victims, India reported 14 deaths among its pilgrims.

Egypt said eight of its pilgrims died, while China confirmed the death of one citizen. The Philippine government said it was verifying reports that at least one Filipino pilgrim was killed.

The tragedy has also triggered a blame game between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, which said at least 131 of its pilgrims died in the stampede.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei said Saudi “mismanagement” caused the catastrophe and called on the kingdom to accept responsibility.

The Saudi online newspaper Sabq meanwhile blamed Iranian pilgrims for the incident.

The paper, citing unnamed witnesses, said waves of Iranian pilgrims had ignored rules related to the stone-throwing ritual by moving in an opposite direction.

Saudi Health Minister Khaled al-Falah suggested Thursday that the stampede had resulted from pilgrims’ failure to observe instructions, but he didn’t name Iranians.

Political rivalries have heightened between Tehran and Riyadh in recent years. The two regional powers back opposite warring sides in Yemen and Syria.

On Friday, pilgrims returned to cast pebbles at designated pillars inside a multilevel structure known as the Jamarat in Mina amid tight security.

They chanted: “Allah Akhbar [God is the greatest]” as each threw 21 pebbles.

Security guards were strict in stopping any pilgrims from moving in the opposition direction to head off any potential stampedes.

According to Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, the pilgrim traffic in the site ran smoothly “without any congestion.”

The three-day pebble-throwing ritual, part of the annual haj pilgrimage, symbolizes resistance to the devil’s temptation.

The haj ends on Saturday with pilgrims heading to Mecca to walk around the cube-shaped Kabaa seven times in what is called the “farewell circumambulation.”

Muslims face Kabaa in the Grand Mosque in their daily prayers.

Around 1.9 million Muslims are participating in this year’s haj, according to Saudi officials.

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