Stampede in Karbala after walkway crashes, several killed - GulfToday

Stampede in Karbala after walkway crashes, several killed


People evacuate an injured man in Karbala on Tuesday. Associated Press

A walkway collapsed and set off a stampede in the holy city of Karbala on Tuesday as thousands of Shiites marked one of the most solemn holy days of the year.

Several people were killed and about 100 were injured, officials said.

Ministry spokesman Saif Al Badr said the death toll could rise as 10 of the wounded were in critical condition.

It was the deadliest stampede in recent history during Ashura commemorations, when hundreds of thousands of people converge on the city, some 80km south of Baghdad, for the occasion every year.

The incident happened towards the end of the Ashura procession, causing a panicked rush among worshippers near the gold-domed Imam Hussein shrine, according to two officials who spoke from Karbala.

Tuesday’s commemorations were peaceful until the walkway collapsed, triggering the chaos.

The incident took place during the so-called “Tweireej” run, when tens of thousands of people run towards the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala around noon.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of thousands of black-clad pilgrims held Ashura processions amid beefed-up security in Karbala and in the capital, Baghdad, marching through the streets.

On Sunday night, thousands marched towards the holy shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala, which had been lit up on the eve of the celebration.

Streets across the country were shuttered on Tuesday to allow for funeral-style processions and elaborate re-enactments of the Battle of Karbala.

Mourners swung large black flags with “Hussein” written in red, wailing loudly and singing religious hymns praising him.

Some whipped their backs and chests to demonstrate their sorrow.

Others -- even young boys -- cut incisions into their foreheads with scalpels or large sabres, leaving streams of blood cascading down their faces.

After reaching the Imam Hussein shrine, some pilgrims set fire to a tent to symbolise the burning of Hussein’s camp by Yazid’s forces.

Similar ceremonies took place in the capital Baghdad, in the southern city of Basra and in Iraq’s second Holy City of Najaf.

Separately, the US-led coalition says American warplanes have dropped 36,000kg of bombs on an Island in the Tigris River “infested” with members of the Daesh group.

The coalition said F15 and F35 warplanes took part in the bombing on Qanus Island in the central province of Salaheddine, north of the capital Baghdad.

Tuesday’s attack is part of operations carried out by Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition against Daesh.

Daesh sleeper cells have since carried out deadly bombings in Iraq.

Daesh controlled large swathes of Syria and Iraq where they declared their territory in 2014.

A video released by the military showed massive explosions creating mushroom clouds billowing from the island that appeared to have been subjected to carpet bombing.

In recent years, Ashura processions have been attacked by militants.

In 2004, at the height of Iraq’s sectarian violence, 143 people were killed in near simultaneous suicide and other bombings at shrines in Baghdad and Karbala during the Ashura procession.

In 2005, rumours of a suicide bomber among worshippers crossing a bridge during a different religious holiday caused a massive stampede killing more than 950 people, many of whom jumped, in their panic, into the Tigris River.

Iraq is majority Shiite, but under ex-ruler Saddam Hussein’s regime, the vast majority of Ashura commemorations were banned.

Now the day is a national holiday, and devout Shiite pilgrims travel from neighbouring Iran and Gulf countries, as well as Pakistan and India, to mark it in Iraq.

After Saddam’s ouster in 2003 by the US-led invasion, Iraq was rocked by years of intracommunal fighting.

In 2013, nearly 40 Shiite pilgrims were killed across various Iraq cities in a series of attacks on Ashura.

The following year, Daesh militant group swept across a third of Iraq and carried out mass attacks against civilian populations, including Shiites.


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