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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Nigeria Mourns 74 Killed in Mecca Stampede

Mourners embrace each other as they pay their respects to the family of Bilikisu Yusuf in Kaduna, Nigeria, Sept. 26, 2015. Yusuf was one of the victims of a stampede during the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia's Mina.

Officials in Nigeria say at least 74 of the country's citizens were killed in last month's stampede at the annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Nigerians are mourning the dead and awaiting news of other missing relatives, 11 days after the tragedy.

According to the latest figures from Nigeria’s Hajj commission, 74 Nigerians died in the stampede and another 64 were injured.

News reports indicate Nigeria suffered more casualties than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa.

And the death toll may still rise. Two-hundred-and-44 Nigerians who went to the Hajj remain missing. Commission officials are searching for them, after the government called for every Nigerian pilgrim to be accounted for.

The Hajj is a major draw for Nigerians. The country’s population is almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians and the commission says 85,000 pilgrims from Nigeria went to Mecca this year.
Muslim pilgrims and rescuers gather around the victims of a stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia, during the annual hajj pilgrimage, Sept. 24, 2015.

In the northern city of Kaduna, many have friends or relatives among the dead. Yusuf Yakubu Argasiyyu, the executive director Muslim League for Accountability in Nigeria, said he knew many of those who were killed.

“Everybody feels sad. Of course, you know, we are Muslims and when such a things happen, we completely surrender to God almighty,” he said.

Some countries have criticized Saudi Arabia’s handling of the stampede. Nigeria has not criticized the country officially, and many of the nation's Muslims are divided on whom to blame for the tragedy.

Yakubu Lere, a politician and farmer in Kaduna, lost friends and relatives in Mecca.

“We shouldn’t blame anybody. You know, it’s a congregation of over 2 million people,” said Lere.

Argasiyyu called for help from Nigeria’s government.

“Government should try to ensure that they sponsor, I mean government delegations that will go there and assist in guiding our pilgrims so that this kind of things that are happening will be reduced drastically,” he said.

Saudi officials say 769 people were killed in the stampede, but if some of the missing are confirmed dead, the final number could go much higher.

(Ibrahima Yakubu reported from Kaduna and Ubale Musa from Abuja-VOA)

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