Mina: Saudi Arabia deployed large numbers of special forces today as pilgrims performed the final rituals of a hajj marred by double tragedy, with the toll from a stampede rising to 769.
Health Minister Khaled al-Falih announced the new figure, an increase from the previous toll of 717.
The number hurt rose to 934 from 863 recorded just after the deadliest incident in a quarter-century to strike the annual Muslim pilgrimage.
Dozens of “special emergency force” personnel were seen Saturday on one level of Jamarat Bridge, a five-storey structure in Mina where pilgrims ritually stone the devil, and on which hundreds of thousands were converging when the stampede occurred nearby.
Many more special forces patrolled the network of roads leading to the structure, which resembles a parking garage. The tightened measures came after the stampede outside Jamarat Bridge.
The interior ministry has said it had assigned 100,000 police to secure the hajj and manage crowds. But pilgrims blamed the stampede on police road closures and poor management of the throng, during searing temperatures.
Criticism has also been particularly strident from Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran, which raised to 136 Saturday the number of its people who died. “It is not only incompetence, but a crime,” Iranian Attorney General Ebrahim Raeisi said, calling on the kingdom to take those responsible to court.
Culture Minister Ali Janati is to head a delegation to Saudi Arabia to follow up on 344 Iranians Tehran says are missing. The disaster was the second deadly accident to hit worshippers this month. A massive construction crane collapsed on the Grand Mosque in the nearby holy city of Mecca days before the hajj, killing 109 people, many of them pilgrims.
Undeterred today, pilgrims in Mina still flooded the area to perform the stoning for a third time, on the last day of the hajj which this year drew about two million people.
They also stood in prayer. Most pilgrims begin leaving on Saturday, returning to Mecca where they circumambulate the holy Kaaba structure before going home.
“We are thankful to our brothers in Saudi Arabia for this effort,” said Abdullah Ali, a 38-year-old Emirati, who blamed other pilgrims for the stampede and urged more awareness. “As you can see, people come from different backgrounds. They are affected by their cultures.”
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