KARACHI, April 9: Twenty-one women and eight children died and over 50 others suffered injuries in a stampede inside a three-storey mosque where a large number of women had gathered on Sunday for a weekly congregation. Thousands of women usually attend the weekly congregation at Dawat-i-Islami’s Faizan-i-Madina mosque. But on Sunday, the attendance was even larger because of the approaching Eid Miladun Nabi, and two floors of the building were jam-packed.

Witnesses said a woman and her child were descending the stairs from the second floor when the child fell. While attempting to lift the chid she tried to stop the women behind her, but she failed and the child was trampled. Her frantic calls for help were misunderstood by other women and sparked a panic.

The sources said that as women on the first and second floors started running downstairs, those on the ground floor also tried to get out of the mosque through its only exit. Several women and children were trapped at the staircase and the eight-foot exit gate. Many were suffocated at the staircase while those who fell could not stand up as more women thronged the exit gate.

“Women fell on each other as panic spread. It was an absolute mayhem. Nobody knew what has happened,” a woman said.

A security guard of the mosque, posted outside the building, said his duty was to stop men from entering the mosque. As the stampede occurred, women started crying for help, he said, adding: “I and my colleagues tried to enter the building but the only exit was jammed as women were desperately trying to come out.”

He said some of the guards who could finally enter the building found the situation beyond control. Many women had been writhing in agony and crying for help.

Most of the injured and dead were taken to the Liaquat National Hospital.

LNH Director Dr Ali Azmat Abidi told Dawn that two bodies and many of the injured had been brought to the hospital.

“We have admitted 15 injured. Other injured were not as serious as those admitted. They were discharged after first aid,” he said.

Dr Abidi said apparently most people died of suffocation and their vital organs, such as abdomen and lungs, were damaged.

In the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Accident and Emergency In-charge Dr Seemi Jamali said bodies of six women and one child had been brought to the hospital. Three injured were admitted to the JPMC, she added.

Rizwan Edhi of the Edhi Foundation said. “We dispatched ambulances but our volunteers were not allowed to enter the building or to shift the injured and dead to ambulances. They were told that women strictly observed pardah and only mehram could touch them.”

He said the obstructions delayed the rescue work and several women could not be taken to hospitals.

Asif Ejaz Sheikh, district police officer, said there was no indication the incident was a terrorist act.

“Initially, it was said that a phone call was received by the mosque organisers that a bomb was planted in the mosque. But we have checked and there was no phone call. It was just a rumour,” he said.

Thousands of pairs of shoes were seen littered outside the mosque. Relatives wailed and beat their chests as ambulances ferried dead and injured people to hospitals.

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