Professor Tijjani El-Miskeen, of the Department of Islamic Studies at the University of Maiduguri, was among the 717 pilgrims confirmed dead in the Mecca stampede on Thursday morning outside Mecca in Saudi Arabia, said to be the deadliest disaster on the annual Hajj pilgrimage in a quarter of a century.
El-Miskeen, described as an intellectual, mystic and illustrious son of Borno State, died during the ritual stoning of the devil, one of the last major rites of their trip, when over 863 people were injured and evacuated to four different hospitals in the Mina region.
The head of the Central Hajj Committee, Prince Khaled al Faisal, who ordered a probe into how the tragedy had occurred, reportedly blamed “some pilgrims from African nationalities,” for the incident.
The findings of the investigation would be submitted to King Salman, “who will take appropriate measures” in response.
The tragedy unfolded in a dusty, overcrowded valley in a street between pilgrim camps, located a few miles outside Mecca as pilgrims, leaving disheveled bodies of victims and injured survivors sprawled amid rubbish and abandoned wheelchairs, videos and photos from the site showed.
According to a BBC Hausa correspondent in the area, there were people from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Senegal, among other nationalities.
“People were just climbing on top of others in order to move to a safer place and that’s how some people died.
“People were chanting Allah’s name while others were crying, including children and infants. People fell on the ground seeking help but there was no one to give them a helping hand. Everybody seemed to be on his own,” the report added.
Also, Al Jazeera reported that “the street where it happened is named Street 204. This stampede did not happen at the site of the ‘stoning of the devil’ ritual.
“During and after the stampede the pilgrims continued to flock into Mina to perform the devil stoning ritual.”
The incident was the second deadly disaster in gulf state this month, after a construction crane collapsed, killing more than 100 people and injuring over 200, rekindling questions about Saudi investment in safety measures for the two or three million pilgrims who make the journey to Mecca for hajj yearly, at the hajj since a similar tragedy in 1990, when more than 1,400 people died after panic broke out among crowds inside a tunnel.
Among the dead were 40 Iranians, even as Tehran, an old enemy whose mutual distrust is amplified by sectarian difference, blamed Saudi authorities for letting crowds get out of control. Riyadh and Tehran have been at loggerheads for decades, backing opposite sides in the wars in Yemen and Syria.
“Today’s incident shows mismanagement and lack of serious attention to the safety of pilgrims. There is no other explanation. The Saudi officials should be held accountable ,” Said Ohadi, head of Iran’s hajj organisation, was quoted as telling AFP.
According to reports, panic broke out when two groups collided at an intersection in the Mina valley, where a temporary city of 160,000 tents house over two million people for a few days each year.
But Saudi Health Minister, Khaled al-Falih, blamed the dead for the tragedy, which he said, could have been avoided if undisciplined pilgrims had “followed instructions.”
More than 4,000 rescue workers raced to the scene to offer first aid, rushing the most critical cases to nearby hospitals, while ambulances ferried bodies and injured survivors from the site of the disaster, the recriminations began.
As an immediate reaction, the Saudi Civil Defence Directorate said: work is under way to separate large groups of people and direct pilgrims to alternative routes.” Limiting the number of pilgrims would be sensitive because the trip is one of the five pillars of Islam – it is a religious duty for able-bodied Muslims to make the journey at least once.