Iran blames the Saudis for the Mecca stampede; the Saudis blame the pilgrims

Pilgrims gather around the victims of a stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia
Pilgrims gather around the victims of a stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia
Image: AP Photo
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Muslims around the world expressed their anger with the Saudi Arabian government in the wake of a stampede near the holy city of Mecca that left more than 700 people dead. The incident during the Muslim hajj is the latest in a series of crowd-control disasters that have killed thousands of pilgrims over the last several decades.

In Shiite Muslim-led Iran, long opposed to the Sunni government of Saudi Arabia, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, sent a series of messages on Twitter blaming the Saudi government for the tragedy. At least 89 Iranians were among the dead.

The Saudi government, meanwhile, blamed the disaster on pilgrims who “move without respecting the timetables,” health minister Khaled al-Falih told El-Ekhbariya television. “If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided.”

Prince Khaled al-Faisal, head of the central Saudi Hajj commitee, blamed the deaths on ”some pilgrims with African nationalities.”

The disaster took place about 6 miles (9.7 km) from Mecca in a town called Mina, reportedly after two waves of pilgrims going in opposite directions collided. Crowd control experts say it was in fact technically a “progressive crowd collapse,” in which people are crushed or asphyxiated by the crowd, rather than a stampede, in which people run blindly at breakneck speeds.

G. Keith Still, professor of crowd science at Manchester Metropolitan University who has worked with Saudi officials on routes leading to Mecca, told Newsweek: “That particular route, 204, is one of the main arterial routes. There’s only so much it will take. If the capacity of the crowds trying to move down those routes exceeds the road’s capacity, you get a crush.”