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Pilgrims Return to Mecca as Annual Hajj Draws to a Close

More than two million Muslim pilgrims on the Hajj in Saudi Arabia have participated in traditional stoning rites Monday and are traveling back to Mecca as the annual pilgrimage draws to a close.

For a third straight day, pilgrims crossed the Jamarat bridge in Mina to cast stones at three pillars representing Satan. The pilgrimage ends as worshippers return to Mecca to circle Islam's holiest site, the Kabba, a black stone cube build by Prophet Abraham.

Saudi officials are praising measures undertaken this year to ensure the safety and security of pilgrims participating in the Hajj, which has taken place without incident so far.

Last January, more than 300 pilgrims were crushed in a stampede on the bridge.

Thousands of Saudi police have been deployed to make sure the pilgrims, both Sunnis and Shi'ites, are orderly and safe.

The Hajj comes as tension between Shi'ites and Sunnis has grown following the execution of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, in Baghdad.

Saudi authorities spent more than $1 billion on renovating the Jamarat bridge and on other safety measures.

Officials have put the number of pilgrims at almost 2.4 million.

Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage at least once if they are able to.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.