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Hajj Pilgrims Search for News of Missing Relatives After Deadly Stampede


The death toll has risen to at least 363 after Thursday's deadly stampede during the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Pilgrims are searching for news of their friends and relatives who disappeared during the crush.

Hundreds of anxious pilgrims scanned a photo display at a hospital Friday, looking for pictures of their missing loved ones who they feared might be among the dead.

As the nationalities of the victims are gradually revealed, it is becoming clear that the disaster on the Jamarat Bridge has touched people from around the globe. The stampede claimed the lives of Africans, Arabs, Asians and Europeans.

An Algerian pilgrim, who did not give his name, scanned the wall looking for missing Algerians.

"Yes, there are many missing people, at least 35 Algerians," he said, and he says there has been no word on their fate.

Saudi authorities say many of the victims were Asian, including Pakistanis, Indians and Indonesians. There were also reported to be a large number of Egyptians among the dead.

Thursday's disaster underscores the difficulty of hosting the world's largest annual religious ceremony, which this year drew roughly 2.5 million pilgrims.

Although Saudi immigration officials try to limit the number of people allowed into the country for the Hajj, their numbers are boosted by the arrival of others who already live and work elsewhere in Saudi Arabia. These unofficial pilgrims go on the Hajj without going through the proper channels. The editor of Al-Medina newspaper, Khaled Batarfi, says the sheer number of pilgrims makes crowd control almost impossible if something goes wrong.

"This is a problem I don't know if there's any way we can solve because you are talking about millions of people moving at the same time…. [Thursday] it was at least one million moving at the same time, and 400 to 600,000 of them are illegal Hajjis who, as I said came from local areas without having permission… or any organization of any kind," he said.

Saudi officials blame the stampede on pilgrims who broke the rules and brought their luggage with them to the bridge. They say the bags tripped people as the crowd pushed in behind them. Saudi authorities also say many pilgrims insist on performing the stoning ritual in the early afternoon, as is traditional, even though authorities urge them to do it at different times throughout the day to reduce crowding.

But some pilgrims say the Saudi security forces are at fault for failing to enforce their own rules strictly enough. In calls to Arab satellite TV stations, angry pilgrims have complained that the security forces were not controlling the crowds very well.

Saudi Arabia has made major modifications to the Jamirat Bridge in recent years in an effort to avoid such disasters. This is the fifth time in the last eight years that a stampede has claimed lives during the final phase of the Hajj, the ritual stoning of the devil. It is also the second-deadliest Hajj stampede ever, after the 1990 disaster that killed more than 1,400 pilgrims.

This year's Hajj has been twice plagued by tragedy. As the pilgrimage was beginning, a building being used as a hotel collapsed in the heart of Mecca, killing at least 76 people.

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