26/09/2015 8:50 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

18 Indians Among Over 700 Killed In Haj Stampede, Confirms MEA

Muslim pilgrims attending the annual hajj pilgrimage are seen on CCTV screens at a security command in Mina, Saudi Arabia, in Friday, Sept. 25 2015, a day after a stampede killed more than 700 people. Saudi authorities are investigating what sparked Thursday's disaster in Mina, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Mecca. Initial reports suggested two crowds coming from opposing directions converged on an intersection, which began pushing and shoving until a stampede began. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

Eighteen Indians have died in the stampede outside the holy city of Mecca that killed at least 717 people and injured 860 others.

MEA Spokesperson Vikas Swarup confirmed that 18 Indian Hajis have died in the accident.

Of the 18 Indian victims, nine hailed from Gujarat, three from Tamil Nadu and one each from Telangana and Kerala. Four others are yet to be identified.

The stampede occurred on Thursday when Haj pilgrims jostled their way to perform symbolic stoning of the devil in Mina at the holy Mecca, marking the culmination of the annual pilgrimage.

Thursday's tragedy occurred outside the five-storey Jamarat Bridge, which was erected in the last decade at a cost of more than $1 billion and intended to improve safety.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday had revealed that 14 Indians have died and 13 more were injured in the stampede.

Nearly 1.5 lakh Indians had gone on the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca this year, which has already seen a major accident, that killed at least 107 this month.

The Saudi civil defence authority said 717 pilgrims from different nationalities were killed and 863 others were injured in the stampede that took place due to a sudden surge in the number of pilgrims heading to Jamarat for symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone walls resulted in the stampede at 9 AM local time (1130 IST).

The hajj, which drew 2 million people from over 180 countries this year, is a huge logistical challenge for Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has spent billions of dollars to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims and maintain safety and security at Islam's holy cities of Mecca and Medina for the annual event.

An AP journalist saw bodies still lying on the ground more than 10 hours after the crush and ensuing stampede in Mina, a large valley containing 160,000 tents for accommodations about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Mecca.

Saudi authorities began an investigation, said Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, adding that initial reports showed two crowds coming from opposing directions converged at an intersection in Mina, on the outskirts of Mecca, when the pushing and shoving started.

"Unfortunately, these incidents happen in a moment," al-Turki said at a news conference.

As of late Thursday, the Saudi civil defense directorate said the death toll was 719, but that probably would rise as bodies continued to be counted and sent to the morgue. At least 863 people were injured, the directorate said.

Meanwhile, 19 pilgrims from Kerala were reported missing. Neither the state government nor the Haj committee has any information about them. Sources, however, said it is too early to conclude if they were injured or killed. Several pilgrims from Gujarat were also untraceable since the stampede in Mina.

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