At least 150 die in stampede during holy pilgrimmage

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Muslims rushing to fulfill a ritual known as “stoning the devil” set off a huge stampede Thursday that reportedly killed more than 150 pilgrims, many of them elderly, on the last day of the annual pilgrimage known as the hajj.
Some of the victims had sat down to rest on an elevated walkway in the 100-degree heat while waiting to begin the ritual. They were trampled from behind by fellow pilgrims when word came that the group could move forward. Others were knocked off the walkway and fell 17 feet to their deaths, witnesses said.
Saudi officials said at least 30 pilgrims suffered injuries, including cuts and broken bones. Police and doctors said those killed were from Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Pakistan and the Mideast.
The stampede took place in the desert plain at Mina, about three miles from Mecca. To shield themselves from the sun, pilgrims had covered their heads with towels or carried umbrellas, some inscribed with the phrase “God is great.”
Hundreds of pilgrims lined up outside Mina hospitals Thursday night, anxious to know the fate of their relatives.
It was the latest tragedy to befall the hajj, which has been bloodied by other stampedes, fires and political protests that turned violent.
Saudi Arabia has invested millions to improve security for the increasing number of Muslims who make the pilgrimage. The hajj is required of all Muslims at least once in a lifetime if they can afford it, and some 2.3 million are in Mecca this year.
Before the stampede, helicopters had been circling Mina to try to spot pilgrims overcome by the heat. Workers threw small bags of chilled water from trucks to those making their way to the pillars.