MINA/NEW DELHI: Saudi authorities were at the receiving end on Friday after a crush during Haj killed at least 717 people, in the worst tragedy to strike the Muslim pilgrimage in 25 years.
Iran said 131 of its nationals were among the victims, and accused regional rival Saudi Arabia of safety errors. “Saudi Arabia is incapable of organising the pilgrimage,” said Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, leading the main weekly prayers in Tehran on Friday.
Pilgrims at the scene faulted Saudi authorities and some said they were afraid to carry on with the Haj rituals.
Meanwhile, the Indian government said 14 Indians were killed and 13 others injured in the stampede. “Our Consul General Jeddah reports loss of 14 Indian lives in stampede. We have 13 injured in hospital,” tweeted External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. “The exact number will be known after confirmation by Saudi authorities,” she added.
Till early in the morning Indian Standard Time, authorities confirmed 13 dead, which included eight from Gujarat, two each from Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand and one from Maharashtra.
All the Gujarat-based pilgrims, who had perished, had gone on Haj using the services of tour operator Madni Tours and Travel, who first reported them missing. Sources said local tour firm, Mangalore Haj group, whose clientele included Indians working and residing in Saudi Arabia, had reported a group of pilgrims missing. Officials visited the group camp to ascertain the details.
Among the 13 injured were two from Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal and one each from Lakshwadeep, Assam, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bihar, Odisha, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, the Indian mission has formed teams to call private tour operators to ascertain if they had any pilgrims who were still untraced.
Besides, Khadim Ul Hujjaj, who are appointed by state Haj committees for every 300 pilgrims, are being contacted to get updates about the welfare of their charge and reports of those missing.
A team of doctors and Arabic interpreters are already deployed in Moassim mortuary, where the majority of the bodies are being kept.
Official sources said the mortuary authorities have assured that formal procedures will be completed by Friday evening and thereafter, it will be opened. This may further drive up the list of Indian casualties.
The relatively lower number of Indians in the list of dead was due to the fact that the stampede happened on Jadid Street, which was the location of camps for African and Arab pilgrims. Indians were housed at Souq al-Arab and Jawahara streets.