TEHRAN, Sept 7: Iran’s president called on the Muslim world on Wednesday to “punish” Saudi Arabia following last year’s haj crush and stampede that killed over 2,400 people, the latest criticism by Iran ahead of the annual pilgrimage. Hassan Rouhani’s comments, coupled with remarks by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, come as Iranian pilgrims will not be travelling to the kingdom this year for the haj, a ritual required of all able-bodied Muslims at least once in their life.
Iran’s state-run IR news agency on Wednesday quoted Rouhani who lambasted Saudi Arabia’s response to the stampede in Mi and said pilgrims lost their lives because Saudi authorities acted just as “bystanders rather than rescuing” those caught in the disaster. He said countries should “punish the government of Saudi Arabia in order to have a real haj.”
“The government of Saudi Arabia must be held accountable for this incident,” Rouhani told a weekly Cabinet meeting. “Unfortutely, this government has even refrained from a verbal apology to Muslims and Muslim countries.”
Khamenei, meanwhile, met with families of victims and survivors of the Mi stampede and reiterated his demand that Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al Saud family properly investigate the disaster, IR reported.
“If they are claiming that they are not guilty in the incident, they should let an Islamic-intertiol fact-finding delegation review and probe the case closely,” Khamenei said, adding that Saudi Arabia “should not shut people’s mouth with money.”
On social media, Khamenei’s accounts used the hashtag #alSaudHijacksHaj to criticize the kingdom, while reiterating his demand that someone other than the Saudis be in charge of administering the haj.
The September 24, 2015, stampede and crush of pilgrims killed at least 2,426 people, according to an Associated Press count based on state media reports and officials’ comments from 36 of the over 180 countries that sent citizens to the haj.
The official Saudi toll of 769 people killed and 934 injured has not changed since September 26. The kingdom has never addressed the discrepancy, nor has it released any results of an investigation they promised to conduct over the disaster.
Iran had the highest death toll of any country, with 464 Iranian pilgrims killed.
In January, tensions between longtime rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia soared after the kingdom executed a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric. Angry demonstrators later attacked two Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran and Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties to the Islamic Republic. The two countries also support opposing sides in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen.
On Monday, Khamenei raised the stakes in the dispute over haj by saying Saudi officials had “murdered” haj pilgrims who were injured in the stampede. Saudi’s grand mufti countered by claiming that Iranians are “not Muslims.”
A coalition of Gulf tions on Wednesday also criticized Khamenei. The Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council issued a statement saying that Khamenei’s remarks and any such “false and outrageous accusations ... should not be issued from the heart or the tongue of any Muslim.” (AP)