First plane carrying dead from Haj crush arrives in Iran

Iranian officials pray as they touch the coffin of a dead Haj pilgrim who was killed in the Sept. 24 Mina crush at Mehrabad airport in Tehran on Saturday.

The first plane carrying bodies of Iranian pilgrims killed in the Haj stampede in Saudi Arabia arrived in Tehran Saturday, nine days after the disaster that escalated tensions between the two regional rivals.

President Hassan Rouhani and other senior officials were at the airport for the arrival of the plane, which carried 104 bodies. State TV says another flight is due later in the day.

Saudi authorities say 769 pilgrims died in the Sept. 24 stampede near Makkah in the worst disaster to strike the annual pilgrimage in a quarter-century. Iran appears to have lost the largest number of pilgrims, with 464 dead.

Initial reports have shown that the stampede took place after two waves of pilgrims converged on a narrow street, causing hundreds to suffocate or be trampled.

Saudi Arabia has rejected charges by Iran of mismanagement and cover-up. Iran has also claimed that death toll exceeded 4,700, without providing evidence to support its claim.

The other dead victims in the stampede were from 14 other countries, among them Egypt, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia.

Saudi Arabia has launched an investigation into the stampede and says officials will be held accountable if it finds that mistakes were made.

The Haj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all able-bodied Muslims are required to undertake it once in their lives. This year some 2 million pilgrims took part in the Haj but Saudi Arabia has hosted more than 3 million in recent years without any major incidents.

Saudi Arabian Airlines plane carrying the coffins of victims who died in the Sept. 24 Haj stampede in is seen at Mehrabad airport in Tehran on Saturday.


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