Indonesia

11 Indonesians dead from Mecca tragedy

Rappler.com
11 Indonesians dead from Mecca tragedy
The number is the latest death toll from the Friday accident at the Grand Mosque when a massive construction crane crashed into the building due to bad weather

JAKARTA, Indonesia (2nd UPDATE) – Eleven Indonesian citizens are confirmed dead in the Grand Mosque tragedy, which left 107 people dead, according to the Hajj Info Center of the Religion Ministry.

On Sunday, the death toll was at 7, but 3 more Indonesian bodies were identified. Another was added to the list on Tuesday, September 15.

42 other Indonesians are injured. (READ: Jokowi expresses condolences)

Officials have asked pilgrims to proactively report any others who have not returned to their inns since the incident.

Indonesians and Indians were among those killed when the crane collapsed, while the injured included Malaysians, Egyptians, Iranians, Turks, Afghans and Pakistanis.

The death and injuries were caused by the collapse of a massive construction crane, which crashed into Mecca’s Grand Mosque in stormy weather on Friday, Saudi authorities said, days before the annual hajj pilgrimage.

The civil defense agency said on Twitter that emergency teams were sent to the scene after a “crane fell at the Grand Mosque,” one of Islam’s most revered sites.

That came about an hour after it tweeted that Mecca was “witnessing medium to heavy rains,” and pictures on social media showed lightning. 

The hajj, a pillar of the Muslim religion which last year drew about two million faithful, will take place despite Friday’s tragedy, Saudi authorities said as crowds returned to pray a day after the incident.

Investigation underway

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman vowed on Saturday to find out what caused the crane collapse ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage.

“We will investigate all the reasons and afterwards declare the results to the citizens,” Salman said after visiting the site, one of Islam’s holiest.

Parts of the Grand Mosque remained sealed off on Saturday around the wreckage of the crane, which also injured around 200 people when it crashed into a courtyard.

But there was little mourning among pilgrims, who snapped pictures of the collapsed metal and continued with their prayers and rituals.

“I wish I had died in the accident, as it happened at a holy hour and in a holy place,” Egyptian pilgrim Mohammed Ibrahim told AFP.

Om Salma, a Moroccan pilgrim, said “our phones have not stopped ringing since yesterday with relatives calling to check on us”.

Salman expressed his condolences to the families of the dead, and then visited a local hospital “to check on the health of the injured”, the official Saudi Press Agency said.

“Suddenly, I heard thunder and then we heard a very loud noise. That was the sound of the crane falling,” Mohammed, a Moroccan pilgrim, told AFP.

Another visitor caught up in the tragedy, Ahmed from Egypt, said he and those around him were “very scared, hysterical even”.

A Saudi official said the hajj, expected to start on September 21, would go ahead despite the tragedy. 

Inquiry has begun

“It definitely will not affect the hajj this season, and the affected part will probably be fixed in a few days,” said the official, who declined to be named.

The pilgrimage is a must for all able-bodied Muslims who can afford it.

An investigative committee has “immediately and urgently” begun searching for the cause of the collapse, SPA reported.

The contractor, engaged in a major expansion of the mosque, has been directed to ensure the safety of all other cranes at the site, it added.

The cranes soar skywards over the sprawling expansion taking place beneath the Mecca Royal Clock Tower, the world’s third tallest building.

For years, work has been under way on a 400,000-square-metre (4.3-million-square-feet) enlargement of the Grand Mosque to allow it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once.

“We saw people dying before our eyes”, the Arab News quoted Sheikh Abdul Raheem, a witness, as saying.

Pictures of the incident on Twitter showed bloodied bodies strewn across the courtyard, where part of the crane had landed atop an ornate, arched and colonnaded section of the complex.

‘Act of God

Irfan al-Alawi, co-founder of the Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, suggested that the authorities had been negligent by having a series of cranes overlooking the mosque.

“They do not care about the heritage, and they do not care about health and safety,” he told AFP.

Alawi is an outspoken critic of redevelopment at the Muslim holy sites, which he says is wiping away tangible links to the Prophet Mohammed.

But an engineer for the Saudi Binladin Group, the developer, told AFP the crane had been installed in “an extremely professional way” and that there had been no technical problem.

“It was an act of God”, he said.

Saudi Binladin Group belongs to the family of the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi, former head of Mecca’s religious police, told AFP the accident was a “test” from God.

“We need to accept what happened,” he said, at the same time calling for a thorough investigation.

Condolences came in from around the world, including from Arab leaders, as well as from Britain, Canada, India and Nigeria.

It was not the first tragedy to strike Mecca pilgrims, although the hajj has been practically incident-free in recent years.

In 2006, several hundred people died in a stampede during the Stoning of the Devil ritual in nearby Mina, following a similar incident two years earlier. – with reports from Agence France-Presse

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