Old photo of hajj stampede victims falsely linked to 2024 deaths

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Saudi Arabia said more than 1,300 faithful died during the hajj pilgrimage which took place during intense heat. A photo showing rows of bodies shared in social media posts about the deaths, however, was taken years earlier. The picture shows victims of a stampede outside Mecca in 2015, the worst disaster in hajj history.

The photo, which was shared on Facebook on June 22, shows bodies covered in white fabric lying on a road flanked by tents.

"More than 1,000 people have died in 2024 hajj," the Tagalog-language caption reads.

"This was because of extreme heat, in which temperature had exceeded 50 degrees Celsius. May they all enter paradise."

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Screenshot of misleading Facebook post taken on June 24, 2024

An AFP tally on June 21, compiling official statements and reports from diplomats involved in the response, put the toll at 1,126, more than half of them from Egypt.

Arab diplomats previously told AFP that Egyptians accounted for 658 deaths -- 630 of them unregistered pilgrims.

About 1.8 million people from all over the world, many old and infirm, took part in the days-long, mostly outdoor pilgrimage, which this year fell during the oven-like Saudi summer.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and all Muslims with the means must complete it at least once.

A 2019 study by the journal Geophysical Research Letters said because of climate change, heat stress for hajj pilgrims will exceed the "extreme danger threshold" from 2047 to 2052, and 2079 to 2086, "with increasing frequency and intensity as the century progresses". 

The photo was widely shared in posts about the deaths on Facebook here, here and here, on YouTube and on social media platform X. 

But the image is nine years old and shows another incident that marred the centuries-old pilgrimage.

Stampede deaths

A reverse image search and keyword searches on various search engines found the photo shared widely in Iranian news reports about a stampede in September 2015 in Mina, a valley lined with tent camps outside of Mecca.

The deadly crush, the worst disaster in hajj history, killed up to 2,300 worshippers, including many Iranians, during the symbolic "stoning of the devil" ritual on September 24, 2015 (archived link).

Below is the photo published by the Iranian Students' News Agency on September 26, 2015 (archived link). 

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Screenshot of photo published by ISNA taken on June 21, 2024

An AFP photographer took a similar picture of the scene (archived link).

The photo caption reads: "Saudi emergency personnel stand near bodies of Hajj pilgrims at the site where at least 717 were killed and hundreds wounded in a stampede in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, at the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia on September 24, 2015."

The photo shows the same tents, fence, a green-coloured air blower and emergency personnel. 

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo in the misleading post (left) and the AFP photo (right) with identical elements highlighted:

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Screenshot comparison of the photo in the misleading post (left) and the AFP photo (right) with identical elements highlighted

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