Iran claims Saudi prince’s convoy triggered hajj stampede
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Iran claims Saudi prince’s convoy triggered hajj stampede

Tehran’s Press TV: ‘Saudi authorities seek to hush up the entire story’; second Iranian news agency asserts death toll is 2,000

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud (AFP)
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud (AFP)

Iran blamed the convoy of Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince for triggering the panic that started Thursday’s stampede at the hajj in Mina, near Mecca.

Tehran also asserted that the death toll in the tragedy, widely reported at being some 700, was over 1,300, and the semi-state Fars news agency claimed it was 2,000.

Fars reported Friday that “a new video 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 that has so far claimed the lives of 2,000 in Mina, near Mecca, on Thursday.”

The video was published by Fars and also uploaded to YouTube by Iran’s Press TV. It did not appear to offer a definitive insight into what caused the stampede.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LPPUUnt92s

Iran’s Press TV, echoing the claim that the convoy of Saudi King Salman’s son prompted the fatal mass crush, cited a report in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Diyar. “The report said 200 army forces and 150 police officers escorted the prince. The report said the presence of the prince in the middle of the population prompted a change in the direction of the movement of the pilgrims and a stampede,” Press TV said. “The Lebanese daily further said that Salman and his entourage swiftly abandoned the scene, adding that the Saudi authorities seek to hush up the entire story and impose a media blackout on Salman’s presence in the area.”

Saudi Arabia's King Salman attends a ceremony at the Diwan royal palace in Riyadh, January 24, 2015. (AP/Yoan Valat, File)
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman attends a ceremony at the Diwan royal palace in Riyadh, January 24, 2015. (AP/Yoan Valat, File)

Former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, for his part, held the Saudi government accountable for the tragedy. “The officials in the Saudi government in charge of [maintaining] order in this huge ritual are responsible for the incident and should be answerable to the Islamic world,” he said.

Hours after the stampede, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged Saudi authorities to accept their responsibility for the tragedy, saying it was caused by “mismanagement.”

Iranian worshipers chant slogans while attending an anti-Saudi protest rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian worshipers chant slogans while attending an anti-Saudi protest rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

In Tehran Friday, thousands protested in the streets as a senior cleric angrily demanded Saudi Arabia hand over control of the annual pilgrimage to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest body of Muslim nations.

Saudi authorities are investigating what sparked Thursday’s disaster in Mina, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Mecca. Initial reports suggested two crowds coming from opposing directions converged on an intersection, which began pushing and shoving until a stampede began.

Saudi emergency personnel stand near bodies of Hajj pilgrims at the site where at least 717 were killed and hundreds wounded in a stampede in Mina, near the city of Mecca, at the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia on September 24, 2015. (STR/AFP)
Saudi emergency personnel stand near bodies of hajj pilgrims at the site where at least 717 were killed and hundreds wounded in a stampede in Mina, near the city of Mecca, at the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia on September 24, 2015. (STR/AFP)

Countries around the world began reporting on casualties and their missing, including Pakistan, which said at least 236 of its pilgrims were unaccounted for on Friday. Egypt’s Religious Endowments Minister Mohammed Mokhtar Gomaa told the state-run MENA news agency the death toll for his country had risen to 14. India said at least 14 of its citizens died in the crush, which also claimed the lives of at least four Turks, three Indonesians, three Kenyans and seven Pakistanis. Authorities in West Africa said 30 pilgrims from Mali and five from Senegal also died.

Among all those countries, Iran immediately appeared to be hardest hit, saying 131 of its pilgrims died and 85 were injured. In Tehran on Friday, thousands of angry protesters cursed Saudi Arabia’s rulers, chanting “death to the al-Saud family.” Iranian state television showed similar protests in several other Iranian cities.

Muslim pilgrims throw pebbles at pillars during the "Jamarat" ritual, the stoning of Satan, in Mina near the holy city of Mecca, on September 24, 2015. (Mohammed al-Shaikh/AFP)
Muslim pilgrims throw pebbles at pillars during the “Jamarat” ritual, the stoning of Satan, in Mina near the holy city of Mecca, on September 24, 2015. (Mohammed al-Shaikh/AFP)

Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, a senior cleric in Tehran, called for the OIC to take over administration of the hajj.

“The Saudi government and authorities involved in hajj should appear before court and be held accountable,” Kashani said. “They should not lie and say, ‘It was because this or that, the weather was hot, it was the pilgrims’ faults.'”

Iran and Saudi Arabia are chief rivals in the greater Middle East. That conflict is on display in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bombing Shiite rebels there Iran has backed.

The hajj pilgrimage is a main pillar of Islam. This year, around 2 million people from more than 180 countries took part in the five-day pilgrimage, which ends Saturday.

Iranian army cadets perform their Friday prayer at the Tehran university campus, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. Thousands of Iranian worshippers have marched in Tehran after Friday prayers to denounce the "incompetency" of Saudi Arabia in handling the annual hajj pilgrimage. The protest came a day after at least 719 pilgrims died during a crush on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian army cadets perform their Friday prayer at the Tehran university campus, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. Thousands of Iranian worshippers have marched in Tehran after Friday prayers to denounce the “incompetency” of Saudi Arabia in handling the annual hajj pilgrimage. The protest came a day after at least 719 pilgrims died during a crush on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Egyptian survivor Wael Abdullah said he just had reached Mina on Thursday when he saw people pushing and shoving to get past one another down one of the narrow streets. People tripped over those in wheelchairs, who also fell to the ground.

“I saw people falling on the ground, other people trampling them … and the situation was out of control,” he said.

The street where the incident took place is about 12 meters (36 feet) wide and lined with barricades, behind which are some of the tents of hajj tour groups, organized by nationality.

Saudi King Salman has ordered the formation of a committee to investigate the incident.

Khamenei offered his condolences to families and relatives of the victims and announced a three-day mourning period in Iran.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Hossesin Amir Abdollahian, told the official IRNA news agency that his ministry summoned the Saudi envoy to Tehran on Thursday for an official protest over what he called the “inadequate performance of Saudi authorities” in the incident.

AP contributed to this report.

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