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Emergency crews and pilgrims during hajj
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Mahmoud

Stampede death toll hits 769

September 26, 2015

The death toll from Thursday's stampede outside of Mecca has risen to 769, Saudi officials have said. The deaths include at least 136 people from Iran, which has leveled sharp criticism at its regional rival.

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The newest numbers add 52 more confirmed dead in the stampede during the Hajj pilgrimage, which ended on Saturday.

Saudi Arabia's Health Minister Khalid al-Falih said the additional deaths occurred since Thursday in various hospitals. At least 934 people were also wounded.

The tragedy unfolded as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims descended on Mina, outside of Mecca, where pilgirms performing the Hajj throw pebbles at three walls symbolizing the devil.

Saudi officials have blamed the crush on "undisciplined pilgrims" who had "not followed instructions."

Shia-dominated Iran has accused its regional rival Saudi Arabia of "incompetence" and "mismanagement" after 136 Iranian citizens were killed and another 102 injured in the stampede. More than 340 Iranian nationals, including the country's former ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, are still missing, according to Iranian television.

Counter accusations

Tehran has called for a full investigation and accountability for the incident, and on Saturday the country's prosecutor general Ebrahim Raisi said Iran would "urge international courts and circles to start the trial of the Saudis for their crimes against Hajj pilgrims."

Meanwhile, Abdullah al-Sheikh, chairman of the Shura Council, which advises the Saudi government, called on Muslims to ignore "the biased campaigns carried out by the enemies of this pure country, to question the great efforts exerted by the kingdom to serve the holy sites, their construction and expansion, and to serve the visitors and pilgrims."

The Imam of Mecca's Grand Mosque said those responsible for the deaths should be held accountable, but the Saudi government is not to blame.

"The Kingdom, equipped with all its resources and capabilities, is exerting every effort to serve Hajj and Umrah pilgrims as well as visitors to The Holy Mosques for decades, and occurrence of an accident due to heavy rush or stampede of some pilgrims or violation of its regulations won't mitigate this lofty position of the Kingdom," Sheikh Saleh Al-Talib said in a Friday sermon.

Saudi Arabia has launched an investigation into the stampede and called for a revision of how the hajj is conducted amid the mounting international criticism.

cw/bk (AFP, AP)

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