The annual Muslim (search) pilgrimage to Mecca (search) and Medina, known as the hajj (search), has been plagued by disaster in recent years.

Thousands of people, most of them pilgrims involved in one of the world's greatest religious rituals, have died in tragedies linked to Islam's holiest shrines.

Some of these were the result of political and religious disputes.

The worst disasters were:

— Feb. 1, 2004: 244 pilgrims killed and a similar number injured, some critically, in a stampede during the devil-stoning ritual.

— March 5, 2001: 35 killed in stampede during stoning of the devil ritual in Mina.

— April 9, 1998: About 180 pilgrims were trampled to death when panic erupted after several fell off an overpass during the stoning of the devil ritual in Mina.

— April 15, 1997: Fires driven by high winds tear through a sprawling, overcrowded tent city at Mina, trapping and killing more than 340 pilgrims and injuring 1,500. Aid workers and diplomats said the death toll was at least 500.

— May 23, 1994: 270 pilgrims, most of them Indonesian, killed in stampede in Mecca as worshippers surge toward cavern for symbolic ritual of "stoning the devil."

— July 2, 1990: 1,426 pilgrims, many of them Malaysians, Indonesian and Pakistanis, killed in Mecca stampede in overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites. It was worst hajj tragedy of modern times.

— July 9, 1989: Two bombs explode in Mecca, killing one pilgrim, wounding 16. Saudi authorities blame Iranian-inspired terrorists and later behead 16 Kuwaiti Shiite Muslims for bombings. Iran denied involvement.

— July 31, 1987: 402 people, mostly Iranian pilgrims, killed and 649 wounded in Mecca when security forces clash with Iranian staging illegal anti-U.S. demonstration.