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35 pilgrims dead in Saudi bus crash

Thirty-five foreigners were killed and four others injured when a bus collided with another heavy vehicle near the holy city of Madina Munawarra, Saudi state media said on Thursday.

The accident on Wednesday evening involved a collision between “a private chartered bus… with a heavy vehicle” near the western city, a spokesman for Medina police said, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Those involved were Arab and Asian pilgrims travelling from Madina to Mecca, according to local media, which carried pictures of the bus engulfed in flames and with its windows blown out.

The injured have been transferred to Al-Hamna Hospital, SPA added. Authorities have launched an investigation.

The Okaz newspaper said that the victims were expatriates who lived in the kingdom and who were performing the umrah — the lesser pilgrimage to the Muslim holy places, which can be undertaken year round.

This year some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world in August to take part in the annual hajj pilgrimage — one of the five pillars of Islam.

Last year, a high-speed train line was opened linking Mecca and Medina in just two and a half hours, halving the previous travel time.

Prince Faisal bin Salman, the governor of Madina region, expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, SPA said.

The nationalities of the victims was not known but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also sent his condolences.

“Anguished by the news of a bus crash near Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. Praying for a quick recovery of the injured,” he tweeted.

In September 2015, a stampede killed up to 2,300 worshippers — including hundreds of Iranians — in the worst disaster ever to strike the hajj.

Earlier that month, 100 people were killed when a construction crane toppled into a courtyard of Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

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