At least 769 pilgrims have been reported dead with another 936 injured in a stampede in the Saudi Arabian city of Mina.
The stampede occurred on Thursday morning as two large groups of pilgrims converged at right angles as they took part in the Hajj’s last major rite , the Stoning the Devil (ramī aj-jamarāt) ritual.
Saudi officials have blamed everybody but themselves for the disaster which is said to be the deadliest in the last 25 years.
Below is an eyewitness account of what really transpired as recounted by Professor Ishaq Akintola, a Nigerian pilgrim and an Islamic scholar:
“As eyewitnesses of the gory stampede incident, we testify that it was caused by security breakdown on the part of the Saudi authorities. We left Muzdalifah for Mina around 6am on that fateful day. We branched in the NAHCON camp to drop our personal effects and headed straight to Jamrat which was less than three kilometres away. To our surprise, the road was blocked by Egyptian pilgrims who had cast their own stones and were returning to their camp. Instead of taking the route designated for returning pilgrims,
they stubbornly took the route meant for those who were going.
“The road became narrow and movement became difficult. The atmosphere became charged and even breathing and visibility were affected. The few policemen around desperately threw water at us to save us from collapsing. It became glaring to us at that moment that a monumental stampede was just around the corner.
“The Saudi authorities therefore lied when they tried to put the blame squarely on African pilgrims. The stampede would not have occurred at all if Saudi security agents had disallowed pilgrims returning from the Jamrat from taking the same route on their way back.
“The practice over the years has always been to take a detour but this was not enforced last Thursday. The fact that the road to the same Jamrat became very free and safe yesterday and this (Saturday) morning when Saudi security agents strictly enforced the rules by disallowing returning pilgrims to use the same route as those going proves that our hypothesis is correct.
“This is criminal negligence and the Saudi authorities must be held accountable. We urge the Nigerian government to support NAHCON’s stand on this. Nigeria must demand compensation from the Saudis for families of the bereaved.
“We should also task the Saudis to involve the world Muslim Ummah in the planning and implementation of the annual Hajj exercise in view of the emerging scenario of complacency on the part of the Saudi authorities.”