Mecca Pilgrimage Death Toll Rises to 1,621—Hundreds Still Missing

AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File
AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File

The Associated Press has reviewed media reports and official comments from nations that reported the deaths of their citizens during the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and found this year’s total standing at 1,621, with hundreds still missing.

That is over double the official figures released by the government of Saudi Arabia.

The report quotes a Saudi human rights activist who thought the Saudi government was “nervous over the sharp criticism it has faced.” The Saudis are also sensitive to pressure from Iran to begin sharing custodial duties over the yearly hajj pilgrimage with other nations. Saudi officials did not respond to the AP’s requests for comment on their casualty figures.

To reach its total, the Associated Press added up reports from various nations which reported casualties in several deadly events this year: “Iran says it had 465 pilgrims killed, while Egypt lost 182, Nigeria 168 and Indonesia 126. Others include India with 114, Pakistan with 100, Bangladesh with 92, Mali with 70, Senegal with 54, Benin with 51, Cameroon with 42, Morocco with 33, Ethiopia with 31, Sudan with 30, Algeria with 25, Ghana with 12, Chad with 11, Kenya with eight and Turkey with seven.”

Even this total is probably low, as the AP admits it was not able to obtain casualty reports from every nation with citizens in the pilgrimage. Some sources say nearly 1,500 people died during last month’s stampede in Mecca.

International Business Times relates a claim from the Iranian government that over four thousand people actually died during the stampede, while noting that foreign officials say the Saudis have given them nearly 1,100 photos of dead “martyrs,” even though the official Saudi death toll was only 769.

Other governments have complained about the Saudis granting limited access to the dead and wounded after the stampede, while the Iranians denounced the “incompetence and mismanagement” of the Saudi government.

Saudi King Salman has rejected calls for his government to allow other nations to organize the hajj pilgrimage. “The irresponsible statements aiming for political exploitation of the incident… shall not affect the role of Saudi Arabia, its duty and responsibilities in serving the guests of God,” said the monarch, as quoted by the official Saudi press agency and passed along by the BBC.

The BBC notes that if the higher casualty counts are confirmed, this year’s Mecca stampede would be “the deadliest-ever recorded accident to take place during the Hajj pilgrimage,” surpassing the catastrophe of 1990.