Death toll in Mina stampede rises to 717; over 850 injured

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Updated 25 September 2015

Death toll in Mina stampede rises to 717; over 850 injured

MINA: The death toll in the Thursday morning stampede in Mina has risen to 717 and officials expressed fears that the number could still increase. The Directorate for Civil Defense said 863 more pilgrims have been injured.
The stampede happened as pilgrims, numbering about two million, were on their way to the Jamrat to perform the "stoning of the Devil" ritual of Haj. The exact cause of the accident could not be determined immediately. 
Most of the victims were Arabs and Africans, officials said. Many of the injured were in semiconscious state. The harsh summer weather has only added to the problem. The injured were not in a position to speak.
Sirens wailed and helicopters hovered overhead as dozens of ambulances brought in victim after victim in the holy valley of Mina.
At Mina Emergency Hospital, one of four facilities treating victims, a helicopter landed as ambulances arrived one after the other.
Injured pilgrims were brought in on stretchers, wearing chest badges giving their personal details, as security officers ushered away passers-by trying to gawk.
“Everybody is dizzy, Haji. Take them to any another health center,” a security officer shouted as two more ambulances arrived at once, bringing in more victims of the stampede.
While some pilgrims recounted news of the incident to each other, there were others who appeared completely unaware that there had been a tragedy.
Amateur video shared on social media showed a horrific scene, with scores of bodies — the men dressed in the simple terry cloth garments worn during Haj — lying amid crushed wheelchairs and water bottles along a sunbaked street.
Pictures taken later by Arab News photographers showed bodies piled on top of each other near a gate leading to the Jamrat.
Survivors assessed the scene from the top of roadside stalls near white tents as rescue workers in orange and yellow vests combed the area.
Because of the tragedy, security officials closed the Jamrat area, where the pilgrims have to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual. The Jamrat has seen stampedes in the past. But the Saudi authorities have expanded the area by constructing a multilayered complex to ease the flow of pilgrims.
The pilgrims had spent the night in Muzdalifa and had come to Mina to throw seven pea-sized stoned at one of the three wall-like structures.
Some 2 million people are taking part in this year’s Haj pilgrimage, which began Tuesday.
The stampede was the deadliest disaster at the Haj since 2006, when more than 360 pilgrims were killed in a stampede in the same area. Another stampede at Mina in 2004 left 244 pilgrims dead and hundreds injured.
Thursday’s stampede happened less than two weeks after a giant construction crane came crashing down on the Grand Mosque in Makkah, the focal point of the Haj.
That accident, on Sept. 11, killed at least 111 people and injured more than 390. Authorities blamed the crane collapse on high winds during an unusually powerful storm.

Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 48 sec ago

Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to "send home in coffins" visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the "vile" and "offensive" remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims. 

"He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”

In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.