SHAFAQNA – Local Muslim scholars have demanded formation of an international probe team on the cause of last week Hajj stampede that took more than 4,173 pilgrims dead, joining the world camp of those accusing the Saudi authorities of inefficiency in managing the world’s largest gathering of Muslims from across the globe.
They told reporters in Dar es Salaam on Thursday that Tanzanian government ought to join the team made of countries with high toll of the fallen to probe onto the mystery behind the worst Hajj horror in the past 25 years in what appeared to be putting the blames on Saudi authorities.
“Mismanagement was the main cause of the stampede in September 24,” said Sheikh Abdulmalik Almas, a Shia-ithna asheri theological scholar and a pilgrim who survived the ordeal.
“The regime of Saudi Arabia is directly responsible for what happened, but it was quick to lay the blames on ‘African’ pilgrims, saying they did not follow regulations and were haphazardly pushing each other to cause the mayhem,” he said.
His assertion was echoed by Alhajj Abdul Kaway, a surviver who alleged that the officials closed the exit route causing the returning group of pilgrims who had accomplished the devil stoning ritual through the entrance route, colliding with the incoming pilgrims.
He also urged the government to carry out a serious inspection and review registration of the local hajj travel agencies, accusing some of inexperience and inefficiency in handling matters related to the Pligrimage.
Ghawth Nyambwa, lecturer at Al- Mustapha International University insisted of the need to create an international probe team that will hold Saudi Arabia liable for the tragedy.
The outspoken pilgrims were reflecting the stance of other countries who had casualties topping the list of the victims.
They include Iran that declared the number of its fallen pilgrims to have risen to 464 from the earlier toll of 239 after the missing pilgrims were presumed dead on Thursday.
Iran had demanded apology from Riyadh and accused it of hindering efforts to repatriate the bodies, but the Saudi government responded by forming a local probe team on the issue amid anger and anxiety elsewhere throughout the Muslim world.
Nigeria has 64 confirmed deaths but has the largest number missing.
“We have 244 Nigerians unaccounted for but we still presume they are not dead until we have seen their corpses,” said Uba Mana, spokesman for the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria.
Frustration has also risen in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-populated nation, where the official death toll reached 59 on Thursday with 74 missing.
Pakistan gave a figure of 46 dead and more than 40 unaccounted for, while its neighbour India has reported 51 deaths.
“There was crowding. The police had closed all entrances and exits to the pilgrims’ camp, leaving only one,” Ahmed Abu Bakr, a 45-year-old Libyan who escaped the stampede with his mother told CNN.
“I saw dead bodies in front of me and injuries and suffocation. We removed the victims with the police.”
He added that police at the scene appeared inexperienced.
“They don’t even know the roads and the places around here,” he said as others nodded in agreement.
Irfan al-Alawi, co-founder of the Makkah-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation said despite the large numbers, police were not properly trained and lacked the language skills for communicating with foreign pilgrims, who make up the majority of those on the Hajj.
“They don’t have a clue how to engage with these people,” he said.
“You just find soldiers gathered in one place doing nothing,” said 39-year-old Egyptian Mohammed Hasan who was a witness of the incident.
An amateur online video footage showed the Saudi police blocking the way to the three columns, target of the stone throwers while a man who was identified as Saudi prince in casual attire was performing the devil stoning ritual.
Earlier this week authorities in Tanzania confirmed that five pilgrims died in the stampede and 50 others were still missing but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said the Tanzanian Embassy in Saudi Arabia was working hard looking for the missing pilgrims.
About 3,000 Tanzanians including 1,300 from Zanzibar went to Saudi Arabia this year to perform Pilgrimage to Mecca, the fifth pillar of Islam prescribed for those who are able for at least once in their life time.
Saudi authorities say victims of September 24, 2015 Hajj stampede are about 4,173 but Iranian sources cite more than 4,700 people died in this incident.