Around two million Muslim pilgrims in Mecca launched into the final rituals of the hajj (pilgrimage) on Tuesday by casting pebbles (jamarat) at three pillars that represent Satan in a symbolic rejection of temptation, as Muslims around the world celebrated the Eid al-Adha holiday.
Thousands at the site in Mina climbed a giant ramp recently expanded by Saudi authorities to prevent deadly crowding, toward the walls that represent Satan. In the heavy traffic, crushes and pileups have killed hundreds, most recently in 2006.
The stoning -- casting 49 pebbles against the three broad stone pillars over two or three days -- mark Abraham's three rejections of the devil's attempts to persuade him to ignore God's instructions to sacrifice his son Ismail, as related in Islam's holy book the Quran.
After the stoning they circumambulate the Kaaba to complete hajj, required of all able Muslims and for many a purifying, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Tuesday also marked the start of Eid al-Adha, when Muslims slaughter sheep and cattle in remembrance of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son. The first day of Eid usually starts with the mass prayers in open areas, after which Muslims start to slaughter their sacrifices.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said on Wednesday that he could not rule out the possibility of a sabotage attempt by al-Qaeda during the hajj.
But al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said on Sunday it was against targeting the hajj.
"We assure our Islamic nation that we are against any criminal action aimed at the pilgrims," it said in an online statement.
Prince Nayef on Sunday put the number of pilgrims from abroad at a record 1.8 million, while some 200,000 permits had been given to local pilgrims, including Saudis and pilgrims from Gulf states.
But tens of thousands of unauthorised pilgrims had by Sunday poured into the valley, skirting their way around highway checkpoints trying to enforce a rule of "No permit, No hajj."
(Compiled by Abeer Tayel)