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244 Trampled to Death at Hajj Pilgrimage - 2004-02-01

Saudi Arabia says at least 244 Muslim pilgrims have been trampled to death and the same number injured in a stampede near Mecca, at the high point of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Saudi Hajj Minister Iyad Madani gave an official report on casualties at a news conference Sunday, several hours after the stampede, which took place during the pilgrims' ritual stoning of Satan at the Jamarat Bridge in Mina.

The toll is one of the worst from an incident at the hajj in recent years. The annual pilgrimage draws nearly two million Muslims from around the world to Saudi Arabia's holy sites.

The stoning is possibly the hajj's most dangerous ritual. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims packed in a throng throw rocks, shout insults or hurl sandals or shoes at pillars representing the devil. Those who take part are demonstrating their disdain for the devil.

Fatal stampedes have occurred during the hajj in previous years because of the large numbers of people involved. Last year, 14 pilgrims were trampled to death during the same ritual.

The worst death toll of the annual pilgrimage is said to have occurred in 1990, when more than 1,400 pilgrims were crushed or asphyxiated to death in a stampede inside a tunnel in Mina.