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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 15:32 GMT
Hajj continues under strict watch
Pilgrims ritually stone a pillar
Security measures were stepped up
Saudi authorities have stepped up controls on millions of Muslims taking part in the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, a day after 14 people were crushed to death in a stampede.

More than two million people continued the ritual stoning of pillars representing Satan at Mina, near Mecca, on Wednesday, as helicopters hovered overhead and officials monitored the crowds.

A Saudi security official monitors the holy shrines in Mecca
Crowds were monitored by 300 cameras

The previous morning's crush happened as pilgrims returning to their camps met others coming the opposite direction.

It occurred despite already strict security measures to prevent a repeat of deadly stampedes seen in previous years.

Authorities controlling the pilgrimage, or Hajj, have blamed the tragedy on pilgrims not following instructions.

'Disaster prevented'

This year's event takes place against the backdrop of a looming war with Iraq, and authorities have deployed thousands of troops to maintain order.

Three hundred cameras have been installed which are linked to a command and control centre.

The head of the Hajj control unit said the "timely intervention" of security forces had prevented a far greater disaster.

"The presence of a large number of police greatly helped to reduce losses," Brigadier Abdul Aziz Said told a press conference on Wednesday.

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

"What happened was purely accidental and not a result of the failure in our security arrangements. It was the result of overcrowding caused by pilgrims not following the rules strictly," he added.

The dead have been identified as four Pakistanis, three Indians, two Egyptians, and one each from Sudan, Yemen and Iran. Two others remain unidentified.

Another 22 people were slightly injured, 20 of whom were treated on the spot with the others discharged from hospital soon afterwards.

Security alerts

The stoning of the pillars, which symbolises the rejection of earthly temptations, will be repeated on Thursday as the Hajj winds down.

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.

Afterwards, Muslims celebrate the start of the Eid al-Adha, or feast of sacrifice.

Security forces in the United States and Britain have been placed on high alert amid warnings that terrorists could launch an attack during the festival.

Police in London, where troops were deployed at Heathrow airport on Tuesday after intelligence warnings of a possible threat, said that the al-Qaeda network or other associated terrorist groups could attack during the Eid.

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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