Indian spiritual leader's mourners killed in stampede

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 6:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 6:01am


A stampede killed at least 18 people in Mumbai as a large crowd gathered to pay their last respects to a Muslim spiritual leader, police said.

More than 40 were also injured in the chaos that erupted shortly after midnight when the gates were shut to the residence of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, who died aged 102 on Friday.

Burhanuddin, who was a leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community, a sect of Shiite Islam, died of a heart attack at his home, a spokesman said.

"Organisers had closed the gates. The crowd was so huge that people started suffocating, some fainted and then people began running and falling on each other in a panic," Mumbai police chief Satyapal Singh said.

Singh confirmed that 18 people died and admitted there was a lapse in crowd control as police and organisers had failed to anticipate the huge turnout.

Stampedes at public events in India are common as large numbers of people pack into congested areas.

Panic can spread quickly and, with few safety regulations in place, the result is often lethal.

Thousands adorned in white scarves and skullcaps gathered yesterday on the streets of Mumbai for the funeral procession of Burhanuddin, television footage showed.

Narendra Modi, leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party who has been vilified for deadly anti-Muslim riots in his Gujarat state in 2002, called the incident "unfortunate" on Twitter: "Stampede near Syedna Sahib's residence is very unfortunate. Condolences to families of those who lost their lives & prayers with the injured."

The spiritual leader, succeeded by his 70-year-old son Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, led the Dawoodi Bohra community for nearly five decades. Burhanuddin had succeeded his father Syedna Taher Saifuddin in 1965.