Massive stampede causes deaths among haj pilgrims

Muslim pilgrims rushing to complete a symbolic stoning ritual at the haj stampeded Thursday, tripping over luggage, and an unknown number of people were killed in the crush, the Interior Ministry said. The Arab television news station Al-Arabiya reported dozens of pilgrims died. The stampede broke out as tens of thousands of pilgrims filed past al-Jamarat, a series of three pillars representing the devil that the faithful pelt with stones to purge themselves of sin. The ritual has seen deadly stampedes in the past, including one in 1990 that killed 1,426 people and another in February 2004 that killed 244. Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, a ministry spokesman, said the stampede happened as pilgrims were rushing to complete the last of three days of the stoning ritual before sunset. Some pieces of luggage spilled from moving buses in front of one of the entrances to al-Jamarat, causing pilgrims to trip and pile up, al-Turki said. Al-Turki said there were deaths but could not immediately give an exact number.