Amateur video has appeared online, apparently showing the moment when a deadly crush began in Saudi Arabia’s Mina as two streams of pilgrims were redirected through a single gate.
The incident occurred at 9 am local time (0600 GMT) on Thursday. Saudi authorities say 717 people were killed in the incident, while Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization puts the death toll at more than 1,300.
The unconfirmed video, which was shared on YouTube on Friday, seems to have been recorded by an unidentified Arabic-speaking individual from a vantage point above the two large masses of pilgrims, which are seen in the footage facing each other and waiting before a number of security forces and other personnel open a gate, channeling the hundreds of pilgrims into another area.
Hundreds through a single gate
As the gate opens, the Saudi security forces are seen forming a chain that limits even further the space for the pilgrims, who flood through the gate in panic with increasing speed, apparently triggering the crush.
People are then heard screaming as the massive flow of pilgrims through the gate continues, with the Saudi security forces on the ground only standing to direct the crowd to a single direction rather than allowing them to disperse more freely.
It is not clear why the two large masses of pilgrims were made to meet face-to-face at the entry point from opposite directions in the first place.
Arabic-language daily al-Diyar has said the presence of the convoy of Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, the son of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, in the middle of the population prompted a change in the direction of the movement of the pilgrims and the subsequent crush. It said Salman had sought to attend the huge gathering of pilgrims in Mina.
This is while Saudi Arabia’s health minister has blamed the pilgrims for the deadly incident, saying the tragedy would not have happened if they “had followed instructions.”
At least 131 Iranian pilgrims perished in the incident.
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has declared three days of national mourning following the disaster.
‘The Saudis should have been prepared’
Interviewed on the deadly incident, Seyyed Abdullah Hosseini, a lecturer at Johannesburg’s Al Mustafa University, told Press TV on Friday that the Saudi authorities should have been prepared to organize large numbers of pilgrims without incident.
He pointed to the history of accidents during Hajj rituals in Saudi Arabia and said the mismanagement by the Saudi government is not new.
The Saudi Hajj authorities “knew very well that the situation may get out of control, so they were supposed to have precautions… concerning the issue,” Hosseini said, adding that the number of the security personnel present at the site at the time of the crush was small “in spite of all of the history of the disasters.”
He pointed to the video apparently showing the moment when the crush began and said the gate was too small for such a large number of pilgrims to go through.
Hosseini also said the Saudi move to blame the pilgrims for the crush is “something to laugh at,” as the crush happened due to the lack of facilities.
The pilgrims “did not come to get killed, they did not want to create that stampede, but because of the lack of facilities… they had to rush” through the site, he said.