SAUDI ARABIA HAJJ 2016.jpg
Muslim pilgrims perform a 'Wudu' (ritual washing performed before prayer) at the Muzdalifah outside Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 11 September 2016.
Photograph: EPA/FAZRY ISMAIL

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims started on Monday a stone-throwing ritual as part of the annual Hajj pilgrimage just outside Mecca, where hundreds were killed in a stampede at last year’s event.

Saudi security forces have been deployed in large numbers in the Jamarat Bridge, a multi-level structure in the desert valley of Mina where the ritual is carried out over three days beginning Monday.

The pilgrims are performing the ritual, which symbolizes the stoning of the devil, smoothly and without overcrowding inside the Jamarat Bridge, the official Saudi news agency SPA reported.

Security forces are regulating the pilgrims’ movement into and out of the building, the agency added.

The pilgrims are setting off to the ritual in groups according to schedules to avoid a repeat of last year's tragedy, other media reported.

Some 769 Muslim pilgrims died in a stampede during the ritual in last year's Hajj, according to Saudi official figures.

A dpa tally and other independent reports, however, indicated that around 2,000 pilgrims died in the crush.

Around 1.8 million Muslims are attending this year's Hajj, according to Saudi officials.

Muslims are expected to perform the Hajj, one of Islam's five pillars, at least once in their lifetime provided they are fit enough and have the financial means to do so.

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