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Thursday, September 24, 2015, 20:46

717 pilgrims killed in stampede near Mecca

By Agencies

717 pilgrims killed in stampede near Mecca
In this image posted on the official Twitter account of the directorate of the Saudi Civil Defense agency, a pilgrim is treated by a medic after a stampede that killed and injured hundreds of pilgrims in the holy city of Mina during the annual haj pilgrimage on Sept 24, 2015. (Directorate of the Saudi Civil Defense agency via AP)

DUBAI - At least 717 pilgrims were killed on Thursday in a stampede at Mina, outside the Muslim holy city of Mecca, where some two million people are performing the annual haj pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia's civil defense authority said.

The crush, in which at least 836 others were injured, took place on Street 204 of the camp city at Mina, a few kilometers east of Mecca. The civil defense directorate said the victims are of different nationalities, without providing details.

Mina houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage.

Thursday is also Eid al-Adha, when Muslims slaughter a sheep. It has traditionally been the most dangerous day of haj because vast numbers of pilgrims attempt to perform rituals at the same time in a single location.

Street 204 is one of the two main arteries leading through the camp at Mina to Jamarat, where pilgrims ritually stone the devil by hurling pebbles at three large pillars.

717 pilgrims killed in stampede near Mecca

Photographs published on the civil defense Twitter feed showed pilgrims lying on stretchers while emergency workers in high-visibility jackets lifted them into an ambulance.

"Work is underway to separate large groups of people and direct pilgrims to alternative routes," the Saudi Civil Defence said on its Twitter account.

The pilgrimage, the world's largest annual gathering of people, has been the scene of deadly stampedes in the past, as well as other disasters including tent fires and riots.

Thursday's disaster was the worst to befall the pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims were crushed to death in a tunnel near Mecca. Both stampedes occurred on Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), Islam's most important feast and the day of the stoning ritual.

Thursday's stampede happened less than two weeks after a giant construction crane came crashing down on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the focal point of the haj. That accident killed at least 111 people and injured more than 390.

Giant cranes are present at the site for construction work to enlarge the Grand Mosque.

717 pilgrims killed in stampede near Mecca
Muslim pilgrims cast stones at a pillar symbolizing the stoning of Satan, in a ritual called "Jamarat," the last rite of the annual haj, on the first day of Eid al-Adha, in Mina near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sept 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

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