A stampede during commemorations for the Shiite holy day of Ashoura in the Iraqi city of Karbala killed at least 31 people and wounded 100 others, officials said.
Ashoura is considered one of the most sacred holy days for Shiites during which worshippers self-mutilate in a symbolic expression of grief and regret for not being able to help Imam Hussein, Mohammad’s grandson, before his martyrdom. He was killed in present-day Karbala in an event that fueled the divide between Shiites and Sunnis.
The deadly incident Tuesday marked one of the most lethal stampedes in recent history during the ritual.
Several news outlets attributed the tragedy to the collapse of a walkway as tens of thousands of people gathered to mark the Shiite holy ritual. However, a spokesman for Karbala province’s media office told BBC that a pilgrim stumbled and fell over, causing others to trip and triggering the deadly event.
Al Jazeera reports:
It was the deadliest stampede in recent history during Ashoura commemorations, when hundreds of thousands of people converge on the city, about 80km south of Baghdad, for the occasion every year.
The deadly rush began when part of a walkway collapsed during a procession, causing mass panic among worshippers. Shia pilgrims converge on Karbala annually to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein, Prophet Mohammad’s grandson.
He was killed in the year 680 in what would become Karbala by the forces of the Caliph Yazid in a major event that helped solidify the divide between what would become Islam’s Sunni and Shia branches.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Shiites converge on the holy city of Karbala. Iraq is a Shiite-majority country.
The Associated Press (AP) notes:
In recent years, Ashoura processions have been attacked by extremist Sunni militants, but Tuesday’s commemorations were peaceful until the walkway collapsed.
The incident took place during the so-called “Tweireej” run when tens of thousands of people run toward the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala around noon.
The 2-3 kilometer (1-2 mile) run symbolizes when maternal cousins of Imam Hussein’s half-brother al-Abbas ran from the nearby village of Tweireej to rescue him only to find out that he was killed.
Many of the faithful beat their chests and lashed themselves with chains in a symbolic expression of grief and regret for not being able to help Hussein before his martyrdom.
Muslim worshippers in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, and Lebanon also celebrated the holy day with demonstrations, prayers, and self-flagellation.
“Today is arguably the most critical day for Shias here in Iraq,” Charles Stratford, an Al Jazeera reported, declared from Karbala.
He said more than three million people traveled to the city for the event.