At least 244 worshippers are reported to have been trampled to death in Saudi Arabia in a stampede during the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. A similar number of people were injured in the stampede.
The stampede occurred in Mina during the stoning ritual, when pilgrims throw rocks at pillars representing the devil on the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast of sacrifice.
A Saudi minister in charge of the pilgrimage told reporters that the fatal surge began when some people carrying personal belongings obstructed the movement of an estimated two million pilgrims flocking to a bridge to throw stones. Earlier, the Saudi state press agency quoted an interior minister as saying there was shoving and jostling in the crowd and that some people fell and were trampled to death.
Police roped off the area around the central pillar and medical personnel intervened to assist the injured.
Saudi authorities had stepped up security measures in an effort to prevent such massive casualties.
The stoning event, in particular, is always a safety concern during the hajj because the huge crowds can create a crush of people that results in fatalities.
In 1990, more than 1,400 people were trampled to death during the hajj. Last year, 14 people were killed in a similar stampede.
Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to is required to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. Nearly two million Muslims from dozens of nations around the world are participating in the pilgrimage this year.