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Mina, Saudi Arabia: Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, grouped by nationality, stoned the devil in Saudi Arabia’s Mina valley on Saturday, as the Haj reached its final stages.
Security forces were heavily deployed in the stoning area and first aid teams remained on high alert around the three adjacent pillars representing Satan.
Men, women and children from 189 countries moved easily from one pillar to the next shouting -Allahu Akbar [God is the greatest]- as they hurled pebbles at the stone walls.
They walked in groups carrying their national flags so no members would get lost in the massive crowds.
As many prayed after and during the stoning, others were taking pictures on their mobile phones of themselves next to the pillars.
The photographing was criticised by members of the security forces who said through loudspeakers: -How are you people stoning Satan and taking pictures with him at the same time?-
The ritual, which takes place in the kingdom’s usually-deserted Mina valley which comes to life only during the annual pilgrimage, began on Friday with the Eid Al Adha holiday as the faithful began by stoning the largest pillar, Jamarat Al Aqaba.
Mina used to be the most dangerous phase of the Haj and the most problematic for the Saudi authorities, marred by deadly stampedes in the past as well as by fires in tent camps.
In the past few years, however, tents have been fire-proofed and gas canisters and cooking are now banned.
The stoning area has also been expanded to avoid overcrowding.
The Saudi authorities have built a five-level structure around the three stoning sites, allowing for a smooth flow of pilgrims who are only permitted to move in one direction throughout the area to prevent congestion.
According to the authorities, 168,000 police officers and civil defence personnel were mobilised for this year’s Haj. For the stoning, they organised specific times of day for groups of pilgrims to perform the ritual.
Over three million registered pilgrims are taking part in the rituals which will be over on Monday. Many pilgrims, however, conclude the pilgrimage on Sunday.