09/24/2015, 00.00
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Pilgrimage to Mecca hit by new massacre: at least 220 dead and over 500 injured

Hundreds of pilgrims die in Medina during a stampede caused by reasons yet to be identified. It is the location of the great tent city during the Islamic world’s largest pilgrimage. Meanwhile, the father of a young man sentenced to death (beheading and crucifixion) invokes appeals for pardon of Saudi King.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - At least 220 people have died and over 500 are seriously injured. This is the provisional toll which is likely to rise, in an incident near Mecca on the first day of Hajj, the traditional pilgrimage of the Muslim world. Today is Eid al-Adha, the "Feast of Sacrifice", the first event of the anniversary that attracts millions of pilgrims from around the world to the holy places of Islam.

According to the Saudi authorities the causes are still unclear: in any case, a stampede occurred at Mina – in one of the tent cities in less than five kilometers from Mecca. Recovery operations are underway, officials explain, but the sheer number of people involved will make it more complicated. On September 12, a crane fell on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing at least 110 people. It was being used for some restoration work needed before the arrival of the majority of the pilgrims.

The town of Mina is located along the road from the center of Mecca on the plain of Arafat, home to a tiny hill of granite known as the "Mount of Mercy". Here, according to the Muslim holy texts, Adam and Eve were reunited after the expulsion from Eden. Also in this area is the "Bridge of Jamarat" from which, on the last night of the pilgrimage, the pilgrims carry out the ritual of "stoning of the devil".

However, not even this disaster on the first day of the great Islamic holiday is able to stop the Saudi Executioner. The father of Ali al-Nimr (sentenced to death for his participation, at 17, in the Arab Spring protests) has appealed directly to King Salman to pardon his son.

According to several human rights activists, the death sentence - that provides for beheading and then crucifixion - is based on confessions extracted under torture. According to his father, Mohammed, if the execution takes place the Shiite minority could react badly: "One thing we do not want in any way. Not even another drop of blood should be spilled. " In the first nine months of 2015 the Kingdom has executed 133 people, a significant increase compared to 87 in 2014.

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