Wednesday, August 31, 2005

600 Dead in Baghdad Stampede

Guardian - Up to 600 people are reported to have been killed and more than 250 injured in Baghdad, after Shia pilgrims panicked amid reports that a suicide bomber was in their midst.

Police said that the stampede occurred on a bridge over the Tigris river, packed with Shia worshippers during a religious procession. A spokesman said some people were killed in the crush and others fell into the river and drowned when a railing on the bridge collapsed.

Most of those killed in the disaster are believed to be women and children, said interior ministry spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Adnan Abdul-Rahman.

Conflicting reports have put the death toll between 300 and 648. Brigadier General Khalid Hassan told Associated Press at least 340 people died, but Iraq's deputy health minister, Jalil al-Shumari, told Reuters that more than 500 may have died. An interior minister is reported to say the death toll had risen to 648 with 322 injured.

One Iraqi television station reported that the prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, has declared three days of morning for the victims of the stampede.

The deaths happened after rumours spread that a suicide bomber was preparing to blow himself up among the crowd celebrating a Shia ceremony.

Thousands of people had been making their way towards the Kadhimiya mosque - an important Shia shrine in the north of Baghdad - to celebrate the martyrdom of Mousa al-Kadim, a revered religious figure among Shia Muslims.