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Report: Death toll in hajj fire actually is 2,000


April 21, 1997
Web posted at: 11:55 p.m. EDT (0355 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Contradicting government numbers, a London-based Saudi opposition group pegged the death toll from this month's hajj fire in Saudi Arabia at 2,000. The official Saudi count puts the toll at 343.

The Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia says that its information is based on sources inside the Saudi Ministry of the Interior who said the fire scene was ruled by total chaos and panic.

There was no contingency plan or central command for this kind of tragedy which "increased the death toll dramatically," the opposition group said.

The annual hajj rituals begin in Mina and climax with prayers the next day on the nearby Mount Arafat. They ended last Sunday in Mina, where pilgrims carried out the symbolic "stoning of the devil" ceremony, in which they cast pebbles at an ancient brick pillar.


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