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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 16:08 GMT
Crushed pilgrims 'met their fate'
Woman carried from scene of stampede
The stoning of the pillars is the most dangerous part of the Hajj
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul-Aziz has said that the 251 pilgrims trampled to death during the Hajj "met their fate".

Speaking to officers responsible for security at the annual event, Prince Nayef said the pilgrimage season had been "a great success".

"Those who say otherwise are ungrateful or hate this country," he said.

Those killed "met their fate because their place and time of death has been decided the moment they were born".

Saudis interviewed on satellite television channels had exaggerated Sunday's events, he added.

'Will of God'

The stampede began as pilgrims flocked to the Jamarat Bridge in Mina, near Mecca, to hurl stones at pillars representing the spot where the devil appeared to Abraham.

Prince Nayef said he saw pilgrims step on bodies to throw stones.

"What happened was the will of God and we do not want to blame pilgrims," he said.

"But really we hope Hajj authorities in Muslim states instruct pilgrims to act serenely to prevent any harm to them and others.

"We had hoped that our brotherly pilgrims would behave calmly and respect those that fell dead or fainted, rather than step on them."

The Saudi Government has said it is setting up a high-level group to redevelop sites in Mecca and Medina to help avoid deaths in future pilgrimages.

The stoning ritual is usually the most dangerous part of the Hajj, a key obligation for Muslim faithful.

Saudi authorities had tried to avoid any incidents this year by urging the two million pilgrims to stone the pillars at different times.

Last year 14 pilgrims were crushed to death during the ritual, and 35 died in a stampede in 2001.

In 1990, 1,426 pilgrims were killed in a stampede in a crowded tunnel.


SEE ALSO:
Saudis review Hajj danger points
02 Feb 04  |  Middle East
Hundreds killed in Hajj stampede
01 Feb 04  |  Middle East
Muslim pilgrimage reaches climax
31 Jan 04  |  Middle East
Saudis issue anti-terror message
01 Feb 04  |  Middle East
In pictures: Hajj
31 Jan 04  |  Photo Gallery
What is the Hajj?
31 Jan 04  |  Middle East


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