MINA, Saudi Arabia: At least 453 people were killed and hundreds wounded in a stampede at the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, in the second tragedy to strike the pilgrims this year.
The stampede, one of the worst incidents to hit the hajj in nearly a decade, broke out during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual, the Saudi civil defense service said.
It said that at least 450 people were hurt and emergency operations were under way in Mina, about five kilometers from Mecca.
It was not immediately clear what had caused the stampede.
Helicopters were flying over the area and the sirens of dozens of ambulances could be heard, AFP reporters said.
It was the second major incident this year for hajj pilgrims, after a construction crane collapsed on September 11 at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, killing 109 people including many foreigners.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had converged on Mina on Thursday to throw pebbles at one of three walls representing Satan, the ritual that marks the last day of the hajj.
The world’s 1.5 billion Muslims were on Thursday marking Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, the most important holiday of the Islamic calendar.
The hajj is among the five pillars of Islam and every capable Muslim must perform it at least once in a lifetime.
In the past the pilgrimage was for years marred by stampedes and fires, but it had been largely incident-free for nearly a decade following safety improvements.
In January 2006, 364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede during the stoning ritual in Mina.
Figures released Thursday by the official Saudi Press Agency said 1,952,817 pilgrims had performed this year’s hajj, including almost 1.4 million foreigners.
Celebrations of Eid al-Adha were also marred in neighboring Yemen, where a suicide bomber struck a mosque in the capital Sanaa in an attack targeting Shiite worshippers that killed at least 25 people and wounded dozens during prayers.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Sanaa has been shaken by a string of bombings by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in recent months targeting Shiites.