Saudi Arabian authorities said Thursday that at least 717 people were killed and hundreds of others were injured in a stampede near the Muslim holy city of Mecca, where an estimated 2 million people are undertaking the traditional hajj pilgrimage.
Reuters, citing Saudi state television, reported that the stampede took place in Mina, a tent city located approximately three miles east of Mecca itself. The area is on the main road from the center of Mecca to the Hill of Arafat, revered by Muslims as the place where Muhammad gave his farewell sermon to Muslims who had accompanied him to Mecca near the end of his life.
Photos released by the Saudi civil defense directorate on its official Twitter account showed rescue workers in orange and yellow vests helping the wounded onto stretchers and loading them onto ambulances near some of the white tents.
The circumstances of the stampede were not immediately clear. However, Thursday marked the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which is traditionally the most dangerous day of the pilgrimage because so many people attempt to perform rituals in the same place simultaneously.
There has been a history of crowd tragedies during the hajj, which every Muslim is required to complete at least once in their life.
In 2006, 364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede at the entrance to a bridge leading to the site in Mina where pilgrims carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone walls. In 2004, 244 people were trampled to death on the final day of the hajj ceremonies.
In the lead-up to this year’s hajj, at least 111 people are killed and scores wounded when a crane collapsed in bad weather and crashed onto the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site.
However, none of these tragedies comes close to matching the deadliest recorded accident during a hajj. That happened in 1990, when 1,426 were trampled or suffocated in a stampede in an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to Mecca’s holy sites.