1st Iran hajj dead flown home 9 days after stampede
The first bodies of Iranians killed in a stampede at the hajj arrived home from Saudi Arabia Saturday after a controversial nine-day delay and questions over the final death toll.
President Hassan Rouhani and other top officials laid white flowers on coffins at a sombre ceremony in Tehran for the 104 pilgrims — among 464 Iranians declared dead in the Sept. crush.
Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of incompetence in its handling of safety at the hajj, further souring relations already strained by the civil war in Syria and conflict in Yemen.
“If it were proved that some (authorities) were guilty in this accident, we will not forgive,” Rouhani said as the bodies emerged in red caskets from a cargo plane at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran.
The president was accompanied by the heads of Iran’s judiciary and parliament as well as the chief of staff of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office.
“Our language in this accident was one of brotherhood and respect and the language of diplomacy was used when necessary,” Rouhani said. “If needed, the language of authority will also be used.”
Iran has been deeply critical of the slow pace at which the Saudi authorities have identified the dead.
More bodies were expected to be flown home later on Saturday but Iran’s health minister said not all of the Iranian dead had yet been found and many were thought to be lying unidentified in sealed containers.
Iranian officials pray over the caskets of Iranian pilgrims, killed in a stampede at the annual hajj, during a repatriation ceremony upon their arrival at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport on Saturday, Oct. 3. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other top officials attended the ceremony for the 104 pilgrims, who were among at least 464 Iranians killed in the Sept. 24 crush in Saudi Arabia.