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Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 19:40 GMT
Fourteen killed in Hajj stampede
A stampede victim
Many pilgrims have died in recent years
At least 14 people have been killed and several others injured in a stampede during the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, a Saudi official has said.

Victims of the stampede
At least 14 people died
The official said the incident happened during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual in Mina, just outside Mecca.

The incident comes despite extra precautions taken by the Saudi authorities to try to prevent a recurrence of the stampedes which have claimed hundreds of lives in recent years.

The pilgrimage, or Hajj, is taking place against the backdrop of a looming war with Iraq, and the authorities have deployed thousands of troops to maintain order.

Journey of a lifetime

"The stampede took place while pilgrims returning to their camps at 1030 (0730 GMT) met pilgrims coming the other way, some pilgrims falling in the dense crowd," said General Abdul Aziz bin Mohammed bin Said.

Those injured were treated at the nearby Mina hospital and two were detained for further treatment.
2001: 35 people die in stampede during stoning
1998: At least 118 trampled to death
1997: 343 pilgrims die and 1,500 injured in fire
1994: 270 killed in a stampede as worshippers surged forwards during stoning.
1990: 1,426 pilgrims killed in overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites
1987: 400 die in Iranian-Saudi confrontation

The dead included six women and nationals from Pakistan, India, Egypt, Iran and Yemen, the AFP agency reported.

More than two million Muslims were taking part in the ritual, after praying at Mount Arafat on Tuesday and collecting pebbles for the stoning.

The pilgrims, many of whom are old and infirm, are emotional and weary by the time they reach the pillars and so are particularly vulnerable, says the BBC's Riz Khan in Jeddah.

They have to pass through a passage way which some say is too narrow considering the huge number of pilgrims involved.

Police and armed guards lined the route to Mina, while armoured vehicles patrolled the roads and helicopters hovered overhead.

The pilgrimage, which takes Muslims in the footsteps of Mohammed, Islam's 7th Century prophet, is the biggest annual mass movement of people on the planet.

In Mina, the devil is represented by three giant concrete pillars.

On Tuesday, pilgrims throw only seven small stones at the first pillar, known as the "big Satan".

The stoning continues over the next three days and after completing the ritual, pilgrims circle the Kaaba - a cube-shaped stone structure at the centre of Mecca's Grand Mosque - seven times.

Then they say farewell prayers and ask God to accept their pilgrimage, which every able-bodied Muslim must make once in a lifetime.

After the stoning ritual, pilgrims may celebrate the start of the Eid al-Adha, or feast of sacrifice, by slaughtering a camel, a cow or a sheep.

The BBC's Raz Khan reports from Jeddah
"The concentration of the large crowd... leads to a regular surge and stampede"
See also:

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