TEHRAN (Web Desk) – Iran’s supreme leader has called on Saudi Arabia to apologise for Thursday’s deadly stampede during the annual Haj pilgrimage in Makkah.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s remarks came after a speech by President Hassan Rouhani at the UN in which he called for an investigation.
Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of playing politics with a tragedy.
At least 769 people died in the crush, more than 140 of them from Iran. It was the deadliest incident to hit the Hajj in 25 years.
Read more: Mina stampede toll rises to 769
The crush occurred on Thursday morning as two large groups of pilgrims converged at right angles as they took part in the Haj’s last major rite – stone-throwing at pillars called Jamarat.
As pilgrims completed the final rituals of this year’s Haj in the shadow of Thursday’s tragic events, the row between the Saudis and Iran over who was responsible only grew in virulence.
Iran lost at least 140 of its citizens in the disaster.
Despite all the billions the Saudis have spent on the infrastructure of the Haj, there is a growing chorus of criticism which extends beyond Iran.
It is claimed that their organisation of the pilgrimage may not have paid enough attention to the basic human level of managing the mass influx of pilgrims so that all are treated equally, as the simple white clothing they assume on entering Makkah is meant to symbolise.
‘Accept the responsibility’
“This issue will not be forgotten and the nations will pursue it seriously,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.
“Instead of accusing this and that, the Saudis should accept the responsibility and apologise to the Muslims and the victims’ families,” he added.
“The Islamic world has a lot of questions. The death of more than 1,000 people is not a small issue,” he said, citing claims by Iranian officials of a higher death toll.
President Rouhani has described the stampede as “heart-rending”.
‘Trial of Saudi royal family in international courts’
Iranians comprise the largest group of casualties identified so far. Iranian state TV says a former ambassador to Lebanon, as well as two Iranian state TV reporters and a prominent political analyst are among those still missing. The semi-official Fars news agency said a former ambassador to Slovenia was among the dead.
Also on Saturday, Prosecutor General Sayed Ibrahim Raisi said on state television that Iran would seek the trial of the Saudi royal family over its “crimes” in “international courts”.
He said Saudi authorities blocked a road used by haj pilgrims to allow a royal convoy to pass through, causing the deadly convergence in the town of Mina on the outskirts of Makkah.
As well as the fatalities, 934 people were injured.
But Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who is also in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, said: “I believe that the Iranians should know better than to play politics with a tragedy that has befallen people who were performing their most sacred religious duty.”
Earlier, the country’s most senior cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh, defended the authorities, saying the stampede was “beyond human control”.
King Salman has ordered a safety review into the disaster.
Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia is a state party to the International Criminal Court, and only the court’s prosecutor can file charges. Iran could try to file a case at the International Court of Justice, which handles disputes between nations but does not mete out criminal justice.
‘VIP convoy used separate roads’
Saudi Arabia has not responded to the Iranian accusations regarding the convoy. Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki said that a VIP convoy traveling through Mina on Thursday, which included foreign dignitaries, had nothing to do with the incident and was in a different part of town. He said VIPs use their own roads in Mina.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are bitterly divided on a host of regional issues and support opposite sides in the wars raging in Syria and Yemen. The accusations of mismanagement of the pilgrimage strike at a key pillar of the Saudi royal family’s prestige – King Salman holds the title of the “custodian of the two holy mosques.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry meanwhile summoned the Saudi charge d’affaires for a third time in three days to protest Riyadh’s handling of the disaster. State TV said Saudi Arabia has yet to issue visas for an Iranian delegation to visit the kingdom to oversee the treatment of injured Iranians and the repatriation of remains.
The disaster is the second to strike in two weeks, after a crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, killing 109 people.
Saturday was the final day of the Haj, with no further incidents reported.
The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all able-bodied Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in their lives.
Deaths reported so far by nationality
Iran: at least 140
Morocco: 87 (media reports)
Cameroon: at least 20
Niger: at least 19
Somalia: 8 (media reports)
Burkina Faso: 1
Other nationalities (numbers not yet known): Benin