MAKKAH: Two million Muslims pilgrims from around the world took part in the symbolic stoning of the devil in Saudi Arabia on Friday, with tight security measures in place two years after a deadly stampede.
The ritual at the Jamarat Bridge in Mina near Makkah marks the final major rite of the Haj.
The stampede in Mina in 2015 claimed the lives of 2,300 people ─ the worst disaster in the history of Haj.
Saudi Arabia says it has deployed more than 100,000 security personnel to keep pilgrims safe this year.
The huge crowds took part in the stoning rite under strict surveillance, with police tape guiding the flow of pilgrims, cameras installed everywhere and helicopters hovering overhead.
Traditionally, seven pebbles are thrown at a post representing the devil, emulating the actions of Prophet Ibrahim.
Since 2004, it has been replaced by walls to accommodate the rising numbers of pilgrims.
By 8am, pilgrims were already reaching for their umbrellas as temperatures rose above 30 degrees Celsius. Security forces misted pilgrims with water as they made their way to the Jamarat Bridge under the hot sun.
“Two pilgrims fainted in front of me this morning,” said Almas Khattak, a Pakistani volunteer in Mina.
The shadow of the 2015 stampede still looms large over the ritual.
Iran, which reported the largest number of victims in the disaster, did not send its pilgrims to Haj in 2016, as political tension between Tehran and Riyadh was on the rise, and authorities in the two countries failed to agree on logistics.
Iranian authorities say more than 86,000 Iranian pilgrims are taking part this year, each equipped with an identity bracelet in case of any accident.
The stoning ritual marks the first day of Eidul Azha, or the feast of sacrifice, which commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son.