The number of Iranian pilgrims who died last week in a human crush near Mecca in Saudi Arabia has nearly doubled to 464, Iran reported on Thursday, increasing tensions between the two countries and adding to doubts that the Saudi government had provided a full accounting of the disaster.
The deaths occurred on Sept. 24, when large crowds of pilgrims converged on streets with few exits in a tent city in Mina, near a crucial stop on the annual pilgrimage known as the hajj. Iran has been joined by India, Indonesia and Pakistan in suggesting that the Saudis have not fully acknowledged the human toll.
Saudi officials blamed some pilgrims for failing to follow directions, leading to overcrowding exacerbated by the dehydration of many pilgrims in the heat.
But other governments and people in the area at the time have accused the authorities of failing to control the crowds and temporarily closing exits, leaving the pilgrims confined.
The Saudi king, Salman, has ordered an investigation, but no progress has been announced. The inquiry does not have an expected completion date.
The Saudi Health Ministry has kept the official toll at 769 dead and 934 injured, despite statements from more than 20 countries that, added together, put the dead at more than 900.
The crush was the deadliest accident in a quarter-century for the pilgrimage, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
The Iranian toll is by far the largest, and represents the country’s single deadliest event since an earthquake killed more than 600 people in 2005. The toll from the stampede includes pilgrims who remain unaccounted for; Iranian officials have given up on finding survivors.
The deaths have aggravated a rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, which compete across the Middle East and beyond for strategic and religious influence. That rivalry has grown more intense in recent years as the countries have backed opposing sides in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen.
The Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned on Wednesday of “harsh” measures if Saudi Arabia did not promptly repatriate the dead Iranian pilgrims.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has so far showed self-restraint, observed Islamic decency and brotherly respect in the Islamic world,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in comments broadcast on Iranian state television. “But they should know that Iran’s hand is superior to many others and has more capabilities.”
It remained unclear what actions Iran would take, if any.
Among the Iranian dead was Ghazanfar Roknabadi, a former ambassador to Lebanon. The post is an important one, given Iran’s close relationship with Hezbollah.
Iranian officials have complained that they were not granted visas to the kingdom and were kept from visiting their citizens in Saudi hospitals. Those criticisms were echoed by Indonesia, from which the largest number of people join the pilgrimage each year. Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, an official with the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, said diplomats waited four days before getting full access to the dead and wounded.
“The Saudi Arabian government has its own regulation, tradition, culture and procedures in dealing with such cases,” said Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, according to The Associated Press. “This has not allowed us enough freedom in our effort to identify” the victims.
This week, the Saudi government distributed pictures of 1,100 people to foreign diplomats to help with the identification process. But Saudi officials said the photos included pilgrims who had died of natural causes or were among the 111 killed when a crane toppled on Sept. 11 and crashed into the Grand Mosque in Mecca, along with those killed in the Mina stampede.
More than 20 countries from across Africa, Asia and the Middle East have reported having citizens killed in the stampede, including 83 from Egypt, 64 from Nigeria, 59 from Indonesia and 45 from India.