At least 31 pilgrims killed during stampede in Iraq

Part of walkway collapses after thousands travel to Karbala for Ashura celebrations

 Iraqi Shia worshipers gather next to the site of a stampede inside Imam Hussain shrine, in the holy city of Karbala, southern Iraq. Photograph: EPA

Iraqi Shia worshipers gather next to the site of a stampede inside Imam Hussain shrine, in the holy city of Karbala, southern Iraq. Photograph: EPA

 

At least 31 pilgrims were killed in the Iraqi city of Karbala on Tuesday in a stampede after part of a walkway collapsed during the Ashura religious celebrations, officials said.

Tens of thousands of people were celebrating one of the most sacred religious holy days for Shia Muslims when the walkway collapsed.

Around 100 others were injured in the incident, which happened toward the end of the Ashura procession, which caused a panicked rush, according to two officials speaking from the city of Karbala.

The death toll released by the Iraqi health ministry was expected to rise, with at least 10 people in critical condition.

Hundreds of thousands of people converge on the holy city, some 50 miles south of Baghdad, for the occasion every year.

The sombre day of Ashura commemorates the killing of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, the Imam Hussein, by a rival Muslim faction in Karbala in present day Iraq, in 680 AD.

Hussein and his descendants are seen by Shias as the rightful heirs to the prophet.

Hussein’s killing has been attributed with cementing the schism between Shia and Sunni Islam.

In recent years, Ashura processions have been attacked by extremist Sunni militants but Tuesday’s commemorations were peaceful until the walkway collapsed.

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

The run symbolises when maternal cousins of Imam Hussein’s half-brother al-Abbas ran from the nearby village of Tweireej to rescue him only to find out that he was killed.

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

Many of the faithful beat their chests and lashed themselves with chains in a symbolic expression of grief and regret for not being able to help Hussein before his martyrdom.

On Sunday night, thousands marched toward the holy shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala, which had been lit up on the eve of the celebration. – AP/Reuters