SAUDI ARABIA HAJJ 2016.jpg
A Muslim man prays near the Hira cave at the Mount Al-Noor ahead of Hajj at the Holy City Of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 07 September 2016.
Photograph: EPA/FAZRY ISMAIL

Around 1.32 million Muslims have arrived in Saudi Arabia from around the globe for the annual Hajj pilgrimage that starts on Saturday, a Saudi official said.

Some 1.24 million pilgrims have arrived by air in the kingdom, which is the birthplace of Islam, the head of the Saudi Passports Department, Major General Solaiman al-Yahya, added in remarks carried by the English-language newspaper Saudi Gazette on Friday.

The rest have come by sea and land, al-Yahya said.

The Hajj, one of Islam's five pillars, peaks on Sunday when the pilgrims, clad in seamless white cloth, throng Mount Arafat outside the holy city of Mecca.

Saudi authorities have stepped up security for the five-day pilgrimage to prevent potential stampedes.

The measures include the installation of hundreds of surveillance cameras in the holy sites, Saudi media reported.

Digital bracelets have also been issued to the pilgrims to help identify and guide them in the congestion.

In the 2015 Hajj, 769 pilgrims died in a stampede during the symbolic stone-throwing ritual near Mecca, according to Saudi official figures.

A dpa tally and other independent reports, however, indicated that around 2,000 pilgrims died in the incident, making it the worst Hajj tragedy on record.

Nearly 2 million attended last year's Hajj.

Muslims are expected to perform the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime provided they are fit enough and have the financial means to do so.

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