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India, Pakistan Say 1,100 Killed in Saudi Hajj Disaster

  • Associated Press

Iranian police officers protect the Saudi Arabian Embassy during a gathering of protesters blaming the Arab country for a deadly stampede that killed more than 700 pilgrims, in Tehran, Iran, Sept. 27, 2015.

Iranian police officers protect the Saudi Arabian Embassy during a gathering of protesters blaming the Arab country for a deadly stampede that killed more than 700 pilgrims, in Tehran, Iran, Sept. 27, 2015.

Saudi Arabia has given foreign diplomats about 1,100 photographs of the dead from last week's hajj crush and stampede, Indian and Pakistani authorities said, an indication of a significantly higher death toll than previously offered by the kingdom.

Saudi officials could not be immediately reached for comment Monday night about the discrepancy in the toll of the disaster in Mina. The Saudi Health Ministry's latest figures, released Saturday, put the toll at 769 people killed and 934 injured.

Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, a lawmaker in Pakistan's governing PML-N political party who is leading his country's response to the disaster, said Saudi officials gave diplomats "1,100 photos" of the dead from Mina. Chaudhry told journalists during a news conference broadcast nationwide on Monday night that the photos could be viewed at Saudi embassies and missions abroad.

"This is the official figure of martyrs from Saudi officials, given for the identification process," said Chaudhry.

His comments echoed those of Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj from Sunday.

"Saudi authorities have released photos of 1,090 pilgrims who have died in [the hajj] stampede," Swaraj wrote on Twitter.

Indian diplomats and government officials declined to immediately discuss or elaborate on Swaraj's tweet Monday. It wasn't immediately clear if other foreign embassies in Saudi Arabia had been given similar photographs.

Saudi authorities have said that the disaster began when two large waves of pilgrims converged on a narrow road last Thursday during the final days of the annual hajj in Mina near the holy city of Mecca. Survivors say the crowding caused people to suffocate and eventually trample one another in the worst disaster to befall the annual pilgrimage in a quarter-century.

Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional Shiite archrival, has criticized the kingdom over the hajj disaster and daily protests have taken place near the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Iranian state media also have suggested that the death toll in the disaster was far higher, without providing any corroboration.

Later Monday, the death toll for Iran in the disaster rose to 228 pilgrims killed, Iranian state television reported. Speaking before the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his nation was mourning the loss of "hundreds of its citizens" and blamed the hajj stampede on the "incompetence and mismanagement of those in charge."

Rouhani used the podium to lash out at Saudi authorities, saying that "due to their unaccountability, even the missing cannot be identified and the expeditious return of the bodies of the deceased to their mourning families has been prevented."

He called for an "independent and precise investigation into the causes of this disaster" so that its repetition in the future would be prevented.

Iran's Mission to the United Nations said Rouhani was canceling events on Tuesday and would return to Tehran after addressing the U.N. General Assembly due to ``the tragic events'' at the hajj.

The hajj this year drew some 2 million pilgrims from 180 countries, though in previous years it has drawn more than 3 million without any major incidents. Able-bodied Muslims are required to perform the five-day pilgrimage once in their lifetime, and each year poses a massive logistical challenge for the kingdom.

This year also marked the first hajj overseen by King Salman, who holds the title of "custodian of the two holy mosques," which gives the monarchy great religious clout and prestige in the Muslim world.

But even before the hajj began, disaster struck Mecca as a tower construction crane crashed into the Grand Mosque on Sept. 11, killing at least 111 people.

Countries continue to count their dead from the Mina disaster.

Abdullahi Mukhtar, the chairman of Nigeria's national hajj commission, said 56 pilgrims from the West African nation were killed and 77 injured in the crush. Chaudhry, the Pakistani lawmaker, put his country's death toll at 40 while dozens remain missing.

Meanwhile, Morocco's state MAP news agency said its country had at least three pilgrims killed and six injured.