MUMBAI- A stampede killed at least 18 people in Mumbai on Saturday when a large crowd gathered to pay their last respects to a Muslim spiritual leader, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Forty people were also injured in the incident which occurred shortly after 1:00 am (1930 GMT Friday) at the home of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, who died aged 102 Friday, it said.
Buhranuddin, who was to celebrate his 103rd birthday in a few weeks, died of a heart attack at his home. He was a leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community, a sect of Shiite Islam.
It was unclear what triggered the stampede but they are a frequent occurrence in India and are usually attributed by authorities to poor police crowd control.
Narendra Modi, leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party who has been vilified for deadly anti-Muslim riots in his Gujarat state in 2002, called the incident “unfortunate” on Twitter.
“Stampede near Syedna Sahib’s residence is very unfortunate. Condolences to families of those who lost their lives & prayers with the injured,” Modi tweeted.
The spiritual leader, who has been succeeded by his 70-year-old son, was honoured with the highest civilian titles such as the Star of Jordan and Order of the Nile by the governments of Jordan and Egypt.
The disaster comes just months after some 115 devotees were crushed to death or drowned on a bridge near a Hindu temple in October when crowds panicked on rumours that the bridge was going to collapse in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.
In 2006, another stampede outside the same temple killed 50 people as they crossed a river, prompting authorities to build the bridge.
India has a long history of deadly stampedes at religious festivals, with at least 36 people trampled to death last February as pilgrims headed home from the Kumbh Mela religious festival on the banks of the river Ganges.
Some 102 Hindu devotees were killed in a stampede in January 2011 in the state of Kerala, while 224 pilgrims died in September 2008 as thousands of worshippers rushed to reach a 15th-century hill-top temple in Jodhpur.