Local Muslim scholars have demanded formation of an international probe team on the cause of last week Hajj stampede that took more than 5000 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-ithnesheriyah theological scholar and a pilgrim who survived the ordeal.
“The government 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 survivor 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.”
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 Muhammed Hassan 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.
But another footage revealed the air filled with about 100 rescue helicopters in the scene of the incident and the local media awash with news about thousands of ambulances busy rescuing the victims, implying the Saudi authorities’ level of preparation.
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.
But it is not the first time that the pilgrims have been facing tragedies, as per the following record;
• July 2, 1990: A stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel (Al-Ma'aisim tunnel) leading out from Mecca towards Mina and the Plains of Arafat led to the deaths of 1,426 pilgrims, many of them of Malaysian, Indonesian and Pakistani origin.
• May 23, 1994: A stampede killed at least 270 pilgrims at the stoning of the Devil ritual.
• April 9, 1998: at least 118 pilgrims were trampled to death and 180 injured in an incident on Jamarat Bridge.
• March 5, 2001: 35 pilgrims were trampled to death in a stampede during the stoning of the Devil ritual.
• February 11, 2003: The stoning of the Devil ritual claimed 14 pilgrims' lives.
• February 1, 2004: 251 pilgrims were killed and another 244 injured in a stampede during the stoning ritual in Mina.
• January 12, 2006: A stampede during the stoning of the Devil on the last day of the Hajj in Mina killed at least 346 pilgrims and injured at least 289 more. The incident occurred shortly after 13:00 local time, when a busload of travellers arrived together at the eastern access ramps to the Jamarat Bridge. This caused pilgrims to trip, rapidly resulting in a lethal stampede. An estimated two million people were performing the ritual at the time.
• September 24, 2015: More than 700 pilgrims were killed and another 863 injured during a stampede in the 2015 Hajj. Iranian sources cite more than 4,173 people died in this incident.