At least eight Bangladeshis are among those killed in a bus accident in the Asir Province, the southwestern region of Saudi Arabia on Monday. Eighteen others were injured.
The Bangladesh Embassy in Saudi Arabia, in a message, said it was difficult to determine the nationality due to the burning and disfiguring of the dead bodies.
"Therefore, the exact number of Bangladeshis who died in the said accident is not known so far from the hospital or traffic sources.
"The bus was carrying pilgrims to the holy city of Makkah. Reportedly, many of the passengers were Bangladeshis. The accident occurred at around 4:00pm at Agabat Shaar in Asir province."
It said a bus of Ruba Al Hijaz Transport Company with passengers from different countries, including Bangladeshis living in the Abha district, left for Makkah in the early evening.
"According to the preliminary report, due to malfunction of the brake system, the bus lost control and collided with a car, rolled over, and caught fire. The passengers could not get off the bus and around 24 passengers were killed on the spot.
"The place of the accident is around 650 kilometres away from Jeddah. As soon as we heard about the accident, we sent a team comprised of the first secretary [Labour] and a legal assistant [LA] of this Consulate to find out the detailed information of the Bangladeshis involved in this accident and to help them in every possible way."
Meanwhile, MD Arifuzzaman, first secretary, Bangladesh Embassy, Jeddah Consulate, said, "According to local sources 8-10 Bangladeshis were killed in the crash."
The bus crash injured more than two dozen others, Saudi state media reported.
The incident in the southern province of Asir highlights persistent challenges to safely transporting worshippers to Makkah and Medina, the holiest cities in Islam.
It comes during the first week of Ramadan, a busy time for umrah pilgrimages, and just months before millions of Muslims are expected to make the annual hajj pilgrimage, reports AFP.
"According to preliminary information we have now received, the number of deaths in this accident reached 20, and the total number of injuries was approximately 29," the state-affiliated Al-Ekhbariya channel reported.
It said the victims had "different nationalities" but did not mention them or provide a breakdown.
The channel said the bus had "car trouble", without specifying, while the private newspaper Okaz said the accident resulted from an issue with the brakes. The vehicle "then collided with a bridge, overturned and caught fire".
Footage broadcast on Al-Ekhbariya showed a reporter standing in front of what appeared to be the burnt-out shell of the bus.
Transporting worshippers around Saudi Arabia's holy sites is a perilous task, particularly during the hajj, when roads can be chaotic with buses creating interminable traffic jams.
In October 2019, some 35 foreigners were killed and four others injured when a bus collided with another heavy vehicle near Medina.
Yet pilgrimages are an essential component of a burgeoning tourism sector that Saudi officials hope will help diversify the kingdom's economy away from fossil fuels.