Hajj pilgrims 'will still put themselves at risk' after Mecca's fatal stampede


Hajj Pilgrimage Continues After Stampede Kills More Than 700

Pilgrims will continue to put themselves at risk following the horrifying crush at the holy city of Mecca that killed more than 700 people, according to a senior British Muslim.

The deadliest disaster in 25 years to hit the sacred hajj pilgrimage left at least 719 people dead and 863 injured.

Khalid Anis, who is on the executive board of the Islamic Society of Britain, said it is a tragedy that "people are allowed to die on something which should be spiritual and peaceful".

He told the Press Association: "Obviously we all want answers. We all need to know why this happened. There just needs to be a clear, transparent analysis of what went wrong."

He said any inquiry needs to be led by Saudi Arabia, adding that the British Government could "push the Saudis to hold the inquiry and to make sure that it's open and transparent".

But he said: "Am I confident that it will be looked at and analysed properly? No. Because it's already turned into a blame game and we have no idea of the story.

"So I'm not confident that it will be sorted and you know, people will still go to hajj and people will still put themselves at risk, and you know, that's a tragedy really, that people are allowed to die on something which should be spiritual and peaceful.

"It's always been difficult to go on hajj, so nobody's denying the difficulty, but it should not any longer in this day and age be life threatening."

Farhan Khalid, from the Association of British Hujjaj (ABH) which provides pilgrims with pre-travel health and safety advice, said this is "the biggest gathering of people anywhere on the face of the earth".

He said it is a "big problem" if people have not been educated on health and safety issues.

Some two million people from across the world take part in the five-day pilgrimage which began on Tuesday.

The crush happened in a morning surge of pilgrims in Mina, about three miles east of Mecca, when they were making their way towards a large structure overlooking three columns where pilgrims carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles.

Amateur video and pictures on social media showed images of dead bodies on the ground.

It comes just two weeks after a giant construction crane came crashing down on the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

In 1990 a stampede in a tunnel killed over 1,400 pilgrims, and other fatal incidents have included the death of 244 pilgrims who were crushed in Mina in 2004 while more than 360 pilgrims were killed in a 2006 stampede also at Mina.

Mr Khalid said that since 2006 huge amounts of money have been spent on crowd control systems and infrastructure.

He said this has prevented any major accidents in almost a decade and said this shows that lessons have been learned.

It is estimated that around 25,000 British nationals head overseas from the UK to Saudi Arabia for the event, according to Abta, the travel association.

It is not known if any of the dead are British but Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is bolstering the size of its team on the ground as it seeks to "urgently gather information about British nationals who may require assistance".

Mr Anis said the vast majority of pilgrims will carry on, and will feel that the victims possibly "died in the best possible place".

Each year pilgrims pay hundreds of thousands of pounds to go on the trip which all believers who can afford it are required to perform once, with people spending between £4,000-£5,000 for a typical pilgrimage.