“The issue which is more controversial than the death of Hajj pilgrims pertains to those Iranians who have gone missing including diplomatic, political and security figures as well as commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC),” Atwan wrote in Rai al-Youm daily on Monday.
“The Iranian officials say that we understand the death and injury of the Hajj pilgrims but coming along with the issue of missing citizens is impossible,” Atwan said, and added, “They say that there could be a plot which entails only two possibilities: either they have been killed and Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to announce it to prevent increasing the number of the dead or it has taken them hostage.”
Atwan underlined that the two possibilities grew even more probable after Riyadh didn’t issue visa for an Iranian delegation headed by Culture Minister Ali Jannati to probe the case under the pretext of Eid al-Adha holidays.
A stampede during one of the last rituals of the Hajj season killed more than 2,000 people and left 2,000 wounded on Thursday.
The stampede occurred during the ritual known as “stoning the devil” in the tent city of Mina, about two miles from Mecca.
At least 169 Iranians have also lost their lives in the incident, while 150 others have been wounded.
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei declared three days of national mourning over the death of the pilgrims.
In his message on 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”.
On Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a message to First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri issued special orders for following up the Mina incident.
The Iranian president in his message condoled with families of the victims of Hajj stampede in Mina.
“The regretful and sorrowful tragic incident of death and injury of Iranian Hajj pilgrims on the threshold of my arrival in New York imposed heavy sorrow on me and the accompanying delegation,” President Rouhani said in his message.
President Rouhani pointed to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei’s declaration of three-day national mourning in Iran for death of over 130 Iranian Hajj pilgrims and injury of many others, and said, “This is the least that we can do for the families of the victims of Mina incident.
President Rouhani reiterated that the Iranian Foreign Ministry and the Iranian Ambassador to Riyadh are duty-bound to investigate the cause of the incident and take all the necessary measures to help to revival of the rights of the victims and injured of the incident, and said, “I ask the Saudi government to fulfill its legal and Islamic duties concerning this issue while shouldering the responsibility.”
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 on 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 has 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 on 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 on 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 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 Qazai Askar in an interview with the state TV on 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
At least 453 killed and over 700 injured in crush outside Mecca
364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede at the entrance to a bridge leading to the stoning site in Mina, outside Mecca
251 pilgrims were trampled to death during the stoning ritual
14 Muslim pilgrims were crushed to death performing the stoning ritual
35 pilgrims killed in stampede
Around 180 pilgrims were trampled to death when panic erupted after several fell off an overpass at al-Jamarat
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
Around 270 were killed in a stampede
1,426 killed in a stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel leading out from Mecca towards Mina and the Plains of Arafat
Two bombs exploded, killing one and wounding over a dozen others.
Over 400 killed during clashes between Saudi security forces and Iranian demonstrators in Mecca
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 Organization of Islamic Cooperation (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 on 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.