Iran Summons Saudi Envoy Over Mecca Stampede

Iranian officials lose no time accusing Saudi Arabia of neglect causing lethal stampede, after previously suggesting holy sites be divided.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Muslim pilgrims in Mecca
Muslim pilgrims in Mecca

Iran accused Saudi Arabia of safety errors after at least 43 of its citizens died Thursday in a stampede that killed 717 Muslim pilgrims during the annual hajj ceremonies, marking the worst such disaster in 25 years.

After saying the kingdom was responsible for the tragedy, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said Saudi's envoy to Tehran would be summoned to the foreign ministry.

The head of Iran's hajj organization, Said Ohadi, said that, for "unknown reasons," two paths had been closed off near the site of the "stoning of the devil" ritual where the stampede occurred. In the ritual Muslims throw rocks at a pillar representing the devil.

"This caused this tragic incident," he said on state television. The names of all Iranians killed in the stampede were read out in a sombre live broadcast in Tehran by a spokesman for the hajj organization.

Saudi Health Minister Khaled al-Falih has for his part blamed undisciplined pilgrims for the tragedy, saying it could have been avoided if they had "followed instructions."

Mecca divided?

Following Abdollahian's lead, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of Iran's parliament, also blamed the Saudis.

Boroujerdi told the semi-official Fars News Agency that: "the Saudi government showed that it is ineligible and incompetent to manage the hajj ceremony."

The statement echoes comments by senior Egyptian religious officials to Iranian media, in which the possibility was raised that Saudi authority over the hajj ceremony and Meccan holy sites might be divided among Muslim states.

Those comments came before the stampede, but after an unusual crane collapse two weeks ago at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The collapse killed 107 people and wounded 238 at the holiest site in Islam which houses the Kaaba cube Muslims pray towards, and it ironically took place on September 11, caused by high winds and a sandstorm.

Following the crane collapse Saudi Arabia barred the Saudi Binladin Group from new projects - the Group is owned by the family of Osama bin Laden.

Reporting on Thursday's tragedy, Saudi's civil defense service has said at least 717 people were killed and 805 hurt.

Ohadi of Iran's hajj organization said the path closures had left only three routes to the area where the stoning ceremony was held in Mina, about five kilometers (three miles) from Mecca.

As well as the dead, at least 60 Iranians were injured, he said.

"Saudis should be held accountable"

"Today's incident shows mismanagement and lack of serious attention to the safety of pilgrims," said Ohadi. "There is no other explanation. The Saudi officials should be held accountable."

Abdollahian also accused Saudi officials of "tactlessness" over the lack of safety measures at the hajj.

"We can in no way be indifferent to this irresponsible behavior of Saudi Arabia. This will be dealt with through diplomatic channels," he said on state television.

Iran has set up a special headquarters at the accident site to support Iranian pilgrims.

"Saudi Arabian officials are responsible for this incident and they should immediately endeavor to take effective measures for managing the existing crisis and providing full security for pilgrims," Abdollahian told the official IRNA news agency.

AFP contributed to this report.