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29 September 2015

Hajj crush: Saudi Arabia issues over 1,000 images suggesting death-toll rise

Saudi Arabia has given foreign diplomats over 1,000 photographs of the dead from last week’s hajj crush and stampede, Indian and Pakistani authorities said, in an indication of a significantly higher death toll than previously offered by the kingdom.

Saudi officials could not be immediately reached for comment about the discrepancy surrounding the death toll of the disaster in Mina.

Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, an MP from Pakistan’s governing PML-N political party who is leading his country’s response to the disaster, said Saudi officials gave diplomats “1,100 photos” of the dead. Chaudhry told journalists during a news conference broadcast nationwide on Monday night that the photos could be viewed at Saudi embassies and missions abroad.

“This is the official figure of martyrs from Saudi officials given for the identification process,” Chaudhry said.

Iranian women protest at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran. Photograph: Ahmad Halabisaz/Xinhua Press/Corbis
His comments echoed those of India external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, on Sunday. “Saudi authorities have released photos of 1,090 pilgrims who have died in (the hajj) stampede,” Swaraj wrote on Twitter.

Indian diplomats and government officials declined to discuss or elaborate on Swaraj’s tweet on Monday.

Saudi authorities have said at least 769 people died when two large waves of pilgrims converged on a narrow road last Thursday during the final days of the annual hajj in Mina near the holy city of Mecca. Survivors say the crowding caused people to suffocate and eventually trample one another.

Iran has criticised the kingdom over the hajj disaster, in which many Iranian Shia Muslims died, and daily protests have taken place near the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Related: The Guardian view on the hajj deaths: a test for the regime | Editorial

Iranian state media has also suggested the death toll was far higher, without providing any corroboration. Iranian state television has said 169 Iranian pilgrims died, while more than 300 remained missing and 100 were injured.

The hajj this year drew some 2 million pilgrims from 180 countries, though in previous years it has drawn more than 3 million without any major incidents.

Able-bodied Muslims are required to perform the five-day pilgrimage once in their lifetime, and each year poses a massive logistical challenge for the kingdom.

Hajj crush: Saudi Arabia issues over 1,000 images suggesting death-toll rise
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