JAMARAT, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Two million Muslim pilgrims were performing a symbolic stoning of the devil on Friday, the riskiest part of the annual haj pilgrimage where hundreds of people were killed in a crush two years ago.
Saudi Arabia, which stakes its reputation on organizing the world’s largest annual Muslim gathering, has deployed more than 100,000 security forces and medics as well as modern technology including drones and fiber optics to ensure a safe pilgrimage.
Under close supervision from Saudi authorities, pilgrims clad in white robes converged on Jamarat carrying pebbles to perform the ritual from a three-storey bridge erected to ease congestion. Some of the faithful carried umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun, with temperatures surpassing 40 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit).
The 2015 incident killed nearly 800 people, according to Riyadh, when two large groups of pilgrims arrived together at a crossroads in Mina, a few kilometers east of Mecca, on their way to performing the stoning ritual.
Counts by countries of repatriated bodies, however, showed over 2,000 people may have died, more than 400 of them Iranians. It was the worst disaster to strike haj for at least 25 years.