Saudi Arabia’s top religious leader has said that the Hajj stampede which killed 717 pilgrims was beyond human control, official media reported on the final day of this year’s pilgrimage.
The stampede was the worst disaster in a quarter-century to strike the annual event and drew fierce criticism of the Saudi authorities’ handling of safety, particularly from regional rival Iran.
“You are not responsible for what happened”, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh told Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in a meeting in Mina on Friday, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Saturday.
“As for the things that humans cannot control, you are not blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable,” the sheikh on told the prince, who is also minister of interior.
Bib Nayef chairs the Saudi Hajj committee and has ordered an investigation into Thursday’s stampede during a symbolic “stoning of the devil” ritual by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims at Jamarat Bridge in Mina, just outside the holy city of Mecca.
King Salman, whose official title is “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” in Mecca and Medina, also ordered “a revision” of how the Hajj is organised.
On Saturday, groups of pilgrims were moving from early morning towards Jamarat Bridge for the last of three stoning days.
The interior ministry has said it 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 flow of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in searing temperatures.
Abdullah al-Sheikh, chairman of the Shura Council, an appointed body which advises the government, stressed that pilgrims must stick to “the rules and regulations taken by the security personnel… In doing so, they protect their lives, their security and facilitate their performing of the rituals.”
Health Minister Khaled al-Falih earlier made similar remarks that faulted the worshippers.