"For the moment, I counted 23 bodies. The wounded are more than 80," witness Abderrahmane Ghoul, who heads an Islamic organization in southeastern France, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"I was present. It started with a fire in the building. A helicopter started to sprinkle water to put out the fire. Afterwards, the building collapsed," he said.
Ghoul said the death toll would have been much higher if the tragedy had not struck during one of the five daily prayers observed by Muslims.
The pilgrims' hostel lay just
More than 1.2 million Muslims from around the world have already arrived in Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj, which climaxes this year on January 9 when the pilgrims descend the Mount `Arafat.
They will be joined by around a million Saudi-based pilgrims.
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, once in their lifetime.
No official statement has been issued on the incident and the state-run Saudi Press Agency has not even reported the news.
"We don't know for sure how many were killed, if any, or if there were pilgrims in the building or not," Interior Minister spokesman Mansour al-Turki told Reuters from Riyadh.
Saudi civil defense officials said an unknown number of people were injured and were now in hospital.
The United Arab Emirates state news agency WAM said four of its citizens had been killed as they passed in front of the building.
Some Makkah residents said about 30 people were staying in the old building.
Saudi authorities had deployed some 60,000 security personnel to try to prevent any repetitions of the deadly stampedes and structural failures that have marred previous pilgrimages.
In 2003, 14 pilgrims, including six women, were killed during the first day of the symbolical stoning of the devil,
The worst toll was in July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims were trampled or asphyxiated to death in a stampede in a tunnel in Mina.
Source: Islam OnlineLast Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16