Muslim pilgrims begin Hajj rituals
More than 2 million Muslims from around the world have begun heading from
Saudi authorities estimate nearly three million pilgrims are attending this year's Hajj, more than 1.6 million from abroad, with the rest Saudis or other residents of the kingdom.
Mansur al-Turki, Saudi interior ministry spokesman, said on Thursday: "Everything is proceeding according to plan".
Al-Turki said the final number of pilgrims would not be known until the Hajj climaxes on Friday, when the faithful start moving towards Mount Arafat where they will spend the day praying and asking for God's forgiveness at the summit, in a symbolic waiting for the last judgment.
Thousands of Saudi security forces have been deployed along the routes to be used by the pilgrims.
Official media said security and health authorities are mobilised to ensure the safety of the faithful during often risky rituals.
For pilgrims streaming in from all continents, the Hajj is a crowning moment of faith, a duty for all able-bodied Muslims to carry out at least once.The pilgrimage, which ends on Monday, is one of the five pillars of Islam and is an obligation for all able-bodied Muslims at least once during their lives if they can afford it.