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Senior Iranian Cleric Calls for Change in Hajj Management after Mina Tragedy

2 October 2015 22:05



Tehran’s provisional Friday Prayers Leader Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani underlined that the Saudi Hajj management should be changed and a fact-finding committee should probe the Mina tragedy.

Addressing a large and fervent congregation of the people on Tehran University campus on Friday, Ayatollah Movahedi Kermani said, “Hajj management should undergo changes.”

The senior cleric also called for setting up a fact-finding committee to probe into the Mina tragedy, and said, “The Mina tragedy will not be resolved just by extending condolences and apologizing.”

He also blasted the Saudi police’s hostile attitude toward the Hajj pilgrims, and said, “The Saudi government is definitely responsible for the event and the world is waiting for their answers.”

Movahedi Kermani said that if the Saudi regime cannot administer the Hajj rituals, it should consult with other Muslim states.

He reiterated that perpetrators of the Mina tragedy should be identified, brought to justice and punished.

A stampede during one of the last rituals of the Hajj season on September 24 killed at least 4,173 people and left thousands wounded.

The stampede occurred during the ritual known as “stoning the devil” in the tent city of Mina, about two miles from Mecca.

At least 464 Iranians have lost their lives in the incident, while 150 others have been wounded. The latest reports said 14 Iranian pilgrims are still hospitalized in Saudi Arabia, while others have either died or been treated and left the hospital, preparing to come back to home.

On Wednesday, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei warned Saudi Arabia that the slightest disrespect for the Iranian pilgrims who are in Mecca for the Hajj ceremony would be reciprocated with Tehran’s harsh and crushing response.

Ayatollah Khamenei called for setting up a fact-finding committee of Iranian and other Islamic countries’ authorities to probe the death of over 4,000 Hajj pilgrims in Mina and missing of hundreds of them, and said, “The Saudi government is not complying with its responsibilities to transfer the bodies of those who have been killed (in Mina stampede) and the Islamic Republic of Iran has so far, respected the brotherhood in the Muslim world by exercising self-restraint and Islamic politeness but they should know that the slightest disrespect for tens of thousands of Iranian Hajj pilgrims in Mecca and Medina and any lack of  responsibility to transfer the bodies will result in Iran’s crushing and violent reaction.”

Reminding that the exact number of Iran’s dead pilgrims is not yet known as the figures might sorely increase, he said some reports have raised the possibility that the death toll might increase to 5,000 people.

Ayatollah Khamenei underlined that Iran doesn’t want to have an early judgment of the cause of the incident “but we believe that the Saudi government hasn’t acted upon its responsibilities vis-à-vis the injured pilgrims in Mina incident and has left them desperate and thirsty”.

He said Iran has so far practiced self-restraint over the death of its citizens in Saudi Arabia, “but they should know that Iran’s hand is above many others and it enjoys more possibilities too and if it wants to show reaction to annoying and insidious actors, they will not have a good situation and they won’t be able to gain victory on any scene of rivalry.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran doesn’t practice cruelty but it also doesn’t accept anyone’s oppression and cruelty; therefore, it doesn’t trample on the rights of any human beings and nations, either Muslim or non-Muslim, but if anyone wants to trample Iran and its nation’s rights, he/she will receive a strong response; and thanks God, there is a capability for such a confrontation and the Iranian nation is powerful and resistant,” Ayatollah Khamenei underscored.

Last Thursday, the Leader declared three days of national mourning over the death of the pilgrims.

In his message last Thursday evening the Iranian Leader expressed condolences to the bereaved families of all those killed in the incident, specially the Iranians, and declared three days of national mourning in the country.

Meantime, Ayatollah Khamenei blasted the Saudi government, saying that Riyadh should accept its responsibility for “mismanagement” and adoption of “improper measures”.

“Mismanagement and improper measures that caused this tragedy should not be overlooked,” he said, stressing that “the Saudi government is required to accept its heavy responsibility for this bitter incident and meet its obligations in compliance with the rule of righteousness and fairness”.

Meantime, Iranian lawmakers said that the Parliament is planning to investigate the stampede incident.

“The parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission will hold a special session to discuss the stampede in Mecca,” member of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Mohammad Reza Mohseni Sani told reporters.

He noted that the parliament’s commission will discuss the Mina incident in its upcoming meeting.

Mohseni Sani blamed the Saudi officials for the disorder which resulted in the death of hundreds of Hajj pilgrims, and urged the Iranian Judiciary and Foreign Ministry to pursue the case.

Sources revealed that the convoy of Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud caused panic among millions of pilgrims and started the stampede.

“The large convoy of Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, the King’s son and deputy crown prince, that was escorted by over 350 security forces, including 200 army men and 150 policemen, sped up the road to go through the pilgrims that were moving towards the site of the ‘Stoning the Devil’ ritual, causing panic among millions of pilgrims who were on the move from the opposite direction and caused the stampede,” several Arab papers, including the Arabic language al-Dyar newspaper, disclosed last Thursday evening.

“That’s why the ruler of Mecca has distanced himself from the case, stressing that the issue should be studied and decided by the King,” it added.

No other source has yet confirmed the report, but observers said the revelation explains why two of the roads to the ‘Stoning the Devil’ site had been closed.

Eye witnesses said earlier that the Saudi police and security forces had closed two of the few roads to the stone column that were to be used by millions of pilgrims to do the ‘Stoning the Devil’ ritual last Thursday.

Saeed Ohadi, the head of Iran’s Hajj organization, accused Saudi Arabia of safety errors and mismanagement.

He said for “unknown reasons” the paths had been closed off near the scene of the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual where the accident later took place.

“This caused this tragic incident,” he told the Iranian state television.

Eyewitness accounts said that even after incident the Saudi security and military forces closed all paths leading to the scene and the bodies of pilgrims have piled up on each other.

Others blamed Riyadh for mismanagement of Hajj ceremony, adding that many of the wounded pilgrims are dying of the hot weather conditions, which reached 46 degrees centigrade last Thursday, while police and the army have closed access roads to the site of the incident making the relief and rescue operations and trafficking of ambulances very difficult.

Pilgrims present on the scene are also complaining about insufficient number of medical teams and centers. Reports said hospitals are overwhelmed by the large number of the wounded.

Twelve hours after the incident, the dead body of hundreds of those killed in the stampede are still piled up out in the streets.

Head of the Iranian pilgrims Seyed Ali Qazi Askar in an interview with the state TV last Thursday evening complained that the Saudi officials do not allow other countries’ relief and rescue squads to help.

“They have even prevented us from aiding our own pilgrims,” he complained with surprise.

This is the third incident in the Hajj rituals this year.

In the first incident, a crane crash over the Grand Mosque of Mecca killed over 100 and injured hundreds more two weeks ago.

Ten days before the start of Hajj this year, a construction crane crashed through the roof of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing 107 people. At least 238 others suffered injuries when a powerful storm toppled the crane.

A week later, a fire incident at a Mecca hotel claimed the lives of several other pilgrims.

A Saudi analyst said on the condition of anonymity for the fear of his life that the two stampede and crane crash incidents were the result of rivalries between a part of the Saudi police and security service and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to display that the Saudi king and crown prince are incompetent and unable to handle the Hajj ceremony.

Rivalries are tough and deep among different royal families who are all descendant of the Al-Saud and see themselves entitled to the thrown. The present king is the first from Sodayri family of Al-Saudi to have ascended to power.

This is not the first time that hundreds die during the Hajj rituals.

The ceremony was the scene of stampedes and hundreds of deaths in the 1980s and 1990s as pilgrims passed a crowded bottleneck area leading to the small pillars on the ground.

Incidents during the Hajj

September 2015

At least 453 killed and over 700 injured in crush outside Mecca

January 2006   

364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede at the entrance to a bridge leading to the stoning site in Mina, outside Mecca

February 2004

251 pilgrims were trampled to death during the stoning ritual

February 2003

14 Muslim pilgrims were crushed to death performing the stoning ritual

March 2001

35 pilgrims killed in stampede

April 1998

Around 180 pilgrims were trampled to death when panic erupted after several fell off an overpass at al-Jamarat

April 1997

343 pilgrims were killed and 1,500 injured in a tent fire at the overcrowded Mina camp. At a result, the tents are now fireproof and gas cooking cylinders are banned

May 1994

Around 270 were killed in a stampede

June 1990

1,426 killed in a stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel leading out from Mecca towards Mina and the Plains of Arafat

July 1989

Two bombs exploded, killing one and wounding over a dozen others

July 1987

Over 400 killed during clashes between Saudi security forces and Iranian demonstrators in Mecca

December 1975

A fire in a tent city at Mina killed around 200 people. The fire was reportedly started by an exploding gas tank

The growing number of incidents and deaths during the Hajj rituals, including three this year, have caused increasing criticisms from the public and various Muslim states officials and elites who believe that Riyadh is incapable of running the Hajj ceremony, stressing that the Muslim site should be run by all the Muslim states and through a global Muslim world body such as the OIC.

Following the incident, Chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi blamed Saudi Arabia for closing the paths leading to a bottleneck in the tent city of Mina which caused the stampede and killed hundreds of pilgrims, stressing that the incident once again showed that Riyadh is not qualified to run the Hajj ceremony.

“The Saudi government showed that it is ineligible and incompetent to manage the Hajj ceremony,” Boroujerdi told FNA last Thursday.

He also called on the Islamic countries to take a serious decision as soon as possible to protect the lives of pilgrims during the Hajj season.

Also after the crane crash in Mecca two weeks ago, several Egyptian religious figures joined the growing number of Muslim world elites and politicians demanding the change of authority in charge of running Hajj rituals from Riyadh to a collection of Muslim states.

“Many mistakes have been made during the Hajj ceremony in recent decades and the bloody Friday incident was not the first case and will not be the last either; therefore, unless a revolution doesn’t take place in the administration and management of the Hajj ceremony in Saudi Arabia, we will witness such incidents in future too,” Sheikh Salman Mohammad, the advisor of Egypt’s ministry of endowment, told FNA.

Also Ashraf Fahmi, a professor at Egypt’s al-Azhar university, said that Saudi Arabia should admit its mistakes in handling the Hajj ceremony and take serious measures to correct the way it administers the ceremony.

Storms were lashing the Saudi city of Mecca when strong winds reportedly brought down the crane that was part of construction works.

Tons of rubble and debris crashed to the ground on top of scores of people gathering in the mosque for 6:30 prayers when a section of the crane crashed through the roof.

At least 107 people were killed and 238 more were injured when the crane collapsed on to the Grand Mosque during storms.

The crane operated for a company owned by Saudi Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, Arab media disclosed following the incident early in September.

Meantime, other media sources claimed that the crane belongs to a German crane company operated by the Bin Laden family’s consortium who are heading the expansion of the Holy Mosque.

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