MINA, Saudi Arabia (Agencies) - Saudi Arabia has mobilised a force of 100,000 men to protect up to three million Muslim pilgrims who have come to perform Haj on Saturday, amid fears of attack or deadly stampedes. All pilgrims from abroad, totalling 1,728,841, have entered the kingdom, the highest recorded number coming from outside Saudi Arabia for the ceremony, the interior ministry said on Saturday. The majority " over 1.57 million " arrived by air, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz was quoted by SPA official news agency as saying, adding that pilgrims came from 178 nationalities. Several hundred thousand Saudis and other people resident in the country usually join visiting pilgrims in the Haj. Maj Gen Mansour Al-Turki, director Haj security at the Interior Ministry, said about 30 percent pilgrims would leave tonight for Arafat for the standing ritual on Sunday on the climax of Haj. Sudanese President Omar Bashir, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have also arrived to perform Haj this year. Local press reports spoke of a throng that could reach three million and SPA news agency reported than everything was proceeding smoothly, with no threat yet of any stampedes like those which caused many fatalities in some previous years. Haj began early on Saturday as pilgrims arrived on foot or by bus in Mina, a dusty valley 10 kilometres from the holy city of Makkah. Dozens of first aid stations lined the route, SPA reported. Pilgrims are spending the day in prayer and contemplation in the valley, transformed into a city of fireproof tents. At dawn on Sunday, they will head for the nearby Mount Arafat. Next, the faithful return to Mina to sacrifice an animal, usually a sheep. This marks the start of the Eid al-Adha. They will spend another two days in Mina for the final rite, the stoning of Satan. Each pilgrim throws 21 pebbles at each of three pillars symbolising the devil. This year for the first time participants will receive the necessary pebbles in pre-packed bags to spare them the effort of searching for the stones. A special Haj committee organised the collection, washing and packaging of the pebbles after first obtaining a fatwa permitting the initiative, the Al-Watan daily said. The vast tide of humanity massing in relatively small spaces has been the source of the Haj's bloodiest disasters, with stampedes causing the deaths of 364 people in 2006, 251 in 2004 and 1,426 in 1990. The Saudi health ministry said it has put in place some 24 field hospitals with 4,000 beds, in addition to nearly 140 health centres. They will be served by more than 11,000 medical staff and a fleet of 150 ambulances. After stoning, the pilgrims go to Makkah's Great Mosque for a "farewell visit" to the Kaaba. US-made Sikorsky S-92 helicopters fitted with sophisticated technology such as night vision equipment are being used for the first time amid the spectre of the attacks, which have haunted Saudi Arabia in recent years. "(Saudi forces) are ready to cope with their responsibilities," Prince Nayef had said after inspecting the security forces supervising the Haj. "Terrorism is not finished. It is still going," Prince Nayef told journalists ahead of the pilgrimage.