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The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam's Holiest Shrine
 
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The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam's Holiest Shrine [Format Kindle]

Yaroslav Trofimov

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INTRODUCTION

The holy city of Mecca looked deceptively calm as the first dawn of the new century started to break behind craggy mountains.

Splashing his face with cold water, the Grand Mosque’s bearded imam fastened a beige-hued cloak over his shoulders and muttered praises to the Lord. The time to lead the morning’s first prayer was minutes away.

Under his window, the mosque’s floodlit courtyard was filling up quickly. The hajj pilgrimage season, when this stadium-size enclosure was traversed by more than a million worshippers, had already ended. Yet Mecca remained jam-packed with the faithful. Many of them had spent the night inside Islam’s holiest shrine, curling up on wool carpets in the Grand Mosque’s multistory labyrinth of nearly a thousand rooms.

As usual, these worshippers camped along with their bundles, mattresses, and suitcases that nobody had bothered to check. Following custom, many hauled in wooden coffins, hoping that the imam would bestow on decomposing relatives inside the precious blessings that can only be received in such a sacred precinct.

Today, some of these coffins contained an unusual cargo: Kalashnikov assault rifles, Belgian-made FN-FAL guns, bullet belts, and an assortment of pistols.

The men who had smuggled this arsenal into the mosque sought an ambitious goal: to reverse the flow of world history, sparking a global war that would finally lead to Islam’s total victory and to a destruction of arrogant Christians and Jews.


The date was the First of Muharram of Islam’s year 1400–which in calendars kept by infidel Westerners corresponded to November 20, 1979.

For the natives of Mecca, a city that lives off the flood of humanity that has coursed through its shrines since time immemorial, this Tuesday morning promised a particularly joyful occasion: New Year’s day is when, according to tradition, the Meccans make a pilgrimage of their own to the Grand Mosque.

In darkness, thousands trekked to the outskirts of the city, shedding everyday clothes after a shower and returning in the pilgrims’ snow white ihram outfits–two towel-like garments that symbolize purity and leave men’s right shoulders exposed.

Mixing in with the locals were as many as 100,000 visitors from all over the world–Pakistanis and Indonesians, Moroccans and Yemenis, Nigerians and Turks. Some were stragglers left behind after the hajj, entrepreneurial pilgrims who, year after year, try to offset the cost of their passage by reselling in Mecca’s bazaars exotic wares from their remote homelands. Others had arrived in Mecca just to witness the turn of the
century–a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Hidden in this human sea were hundreds of grim-faced rebels, many of them sporting red checkered headdresses. Some had been inside the mosque for days, reconnoitering its maze of corridors and passageways. Others were bused in during the night by a friendly religious academy. Yet others drove their own cars to Mecca this morning, arriving at the last minute and accompanied by children and wives to allay guards’ suspicions.

Most of these conspirators were Saudis of Bedouin stock, though their ranks also brimmed with foreigners, if such a word had a meaning for men who believed in the single citizenship of Islam. They even included African American converts, inspired by a new faith and hardened by race riots half a world away.

The color of the cloudless sky just started to turn from grayish to pink when the dawn ritual began, as it does that time of the year, at 5:18 a.m. “La ilaha ila Allah,” the deep-voiced prayer call rang from new loudspeakers affixed atop the mosque’s seven towering minarets: “There is no god but Allah.”

Barefoot, worshippers knelt in the Grand Mosque’s marble-paved courtyard. Clearing his throat, the imam picked up the microphone and read out the blessings. On his cue, the faithful prostrated themselves on the ground, in a vast succession of concentric circles that radiated from the Kaaba, an ancient cube draped in black silk embroidered with gold
that looms in the center of the enclosure.

Then, just as the imam concluded the prayer with wishes of peace, gunshots rang out. The crackling sound reverberated in the courtyard as in an echo chamber. Stunned worshippers spotted a young man, a rifle in his hands, walking briskly toward the Kaaba. Another shot sent into the air flocks of panicked pigeons that usually graze on the plaza
outside the Grand Mosque.

Rumors quickly swirled through the crowd. What could all this be? What was all that noise? Maybe there is an innocuous explanation, one man opined. Maybe the gunmen were bodyguards for some senior prince, or even the Saudi monarch, King Khaled, himself ? Maybe the gunfire was just some peculiar Saudi way to celebrate the New Year?

More knowledgeable worshippers shuddered. Firing a weapon in the Grand Mosque, they knew, was a grave sin. They couldn’t recall the last time such a sacrilege had occurred. Pilgrims watched with angst as more and more gunmen closed in on the Kaaba, carrying weapons that had been extracted from uncrated coffins. The Grand Mosque’s own police force, armed with nothing more threatening than sticks for beating misbehaving foreign pilgrims, melted away once two guards who attempted resistance fell dead by the gates.


Amid this commotion, the rebels’ leader, Juhayman al Uteybi, emerged from the depths of the mosque. A forty-three-year-old Bedouin preacher with magnetic black eyes, sensual lips, and shoulder-length hair that seamlessly blended into a black curly beard, Juhayman conveyed a sense of immediate authority despite his slender stature. Emulating a piety first displayed by Prophet Mohammed himself, he wore a traditional Saudi white robe that was cut short at midcalf to signal the rejection of material goods. Unlike his fellow gunmen, he was bareheaded, with only a thin green hair band keeping his unruly locks in check.

Flanked by three militants armed with rifles, pistols, and daggers, Juhayman started to elbow his way across the courtyard, toward the sacred Kaaba and the Grand Mosque’s imam. The cleric, who had just turned his face away from the Kaaba and toward the distressing tumult among the believers, noticed that he was standing right next to a coffin.
This one contained a real cadaver; the dead child’s relatives, oblivious to the mounting upheaval, were imploring the imam to bless the tiny corpse.

As the cleric obliged, reciting the sacred lines, recognition flickered on his face. He realized in these moments that Juhayman and some of the other gunmen, who now got disconcertingly close, had attended his lectures on Islam here in Mecca. This feeling turned to horror seconds later, as Juhayman unceremoniously pushed the cleric aside and seized the microphone. When the imam tried to wrestle back the mike, one of the intruders raised a sharp curved dagger and screamed at the top of his lungs, ready to stab.

A fright swept the crowd.

Picking up shoes, thousands rushed toward the enclosure’s gates, only to find all fifty-one of them chained shut. Ragged-looking gun- men, muzzles staring into the crowd, barred all exits. Unsure of how to behave, some worshippers started chanting “Allahu Akbar”–“God is Greatest”–the Muslims’ invocation of faith in a moment of adversity. The gunmen unexpectedly joined in this chorus and it became louder and louder, spreading throughout the packed mosque until it turned into a deafening roar.

When this chanting subsided, Juhayman barked into the microphone a series of clipped military commands. Following his instructions, scores of his well-trained followers dispersed throughout the compound, setting up machine-gun nests atop the shrine’s seven minarets. Trapped pilgrims were gang-pressed into aiding the rebels. Some had to roll up the thousands of heavy carpets inside the courtyard and prop them up against the chained
gates. The fittest were forced at gunpoint to climb the steep staircases to the tops of the minarets, carrying water and crates of ammunition. The takeover of Islam’s holy of holies was swift and complete.

At their 89 meters (292 feet) of height, the mosque’s minarets overlooked much of downtown Mecca, providing rebel snipers with a vast field of fire. Trigger fingers caressing the cold metal, they scanned neighboring streets for potential foes. “If you see a government soldier who wants to raise his hand against you, have no pity and shoot him because he wants to kill you,” Juhayman instructed these snipers in his guttural desert accent. “Do not hesitate!”


Under the minarets, even Saudis–proficient in the local dialect–had a hard time understanding what was going on. The crying of women, the coughing of elders, and the shuffling of bare feet filled the Grand Mosque’s courtyard with an anxious hum. Many foreigners among the tens of thousands of hostages spoke no Arabic at all and stood transfixed in the turmoil, asking better-educated countrymen for explanation in a multitude of tongues.

The conspirators were prepared for linguistic problems, and wanted to be comprehended. Soon they grouped Pakistani and Indian pilgrims on one side of the mosque, with a Pakistani-born rebel interpreting the announcements in Urdu to bewildered compatriots. A cluster of Africans was provided with a speaker of English. “Sit down, sit down and listen,” Juhayman’s gunmen yelled, rifle-butting those pilgrims who dared to disobey.

As cowed worshippers finally settled in fearful attention, the mysterious group indicated that its authority now extended well beyond the Grand Mosque to Saudi Arabia’s commercial capital and to the second of the country’s two holy cities. “Mecca, Medina, and Jeddah are now in our hands...

From Publishers Weekly

Trofimov, a Wall Street Journal writer and observer of the Muslim world (Faith at War), tackles an incident unreported in the West: the violent takeover of Islam's holiest shrine by Muslim fundamentalists in 1979. Carrying out his investigations in one of the world's most closed societies, Trofimov has crafted a compelling historical narrative, blending messianic theology with righteous violence, and the Saudi state's sclerotic corruption with the complicity of the official religious institutions. Trofimov aptly points out endemic regional problems with enduring repercussions for fighting terror, but is hampered by his sensationalist style (The world was twelve months away from the tumultuous events that would cover the mosque's marble courtyard with blood, spilled guts and severed limbs). In 1979, the Saudi intelligence services apparently had no accurate blueprints of the Grand Mosque, and knew nothing of the underground labyrinth where many of the militants took shelter; they eventually received plans to the site from Osama bin Laden's older brother. Ringleader Juhayman and his followers have inspired al-Qaeda and countless other Islamic revivalist movements to ever greater acts of violence, even though they were mesmerized by their limited understanding of an obscurantist theology and were convinced that that one of their unassuming members was the Messiah. Casual readers will be well served by this introduction to Muslim fundamentalist terrorism. (Sept. 18)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1291 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 336 pages
  • Editeur : Anchor; Édition : Reprint (9 septembre 2008)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B001FSL2KI
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Amazon.com: 4.6 étoiles sur 5  71 commentaires
51 internautes sur 55 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Untold Story of Islam's Worst Terrorist Attack in Its Holy Land and of the Origins of Al-Qaeda 20 décembre 2007
Par John Kwok - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Reading just like a classic thriller written by the likes of Graham Greene or John Le Carre, Wall Street Journal reporter Yaroslav Trofimov's "The Siege of Mecca" is an important, comprehensive examination of the events leading up to the two-week siege of Mecca's Grand Mosque, the siege of itself, and subsequent events afterwards, which would lead inexorably to the rise of Al-Qaeda and the spectacular 9/11/01 terrorist attacks upon the United States. This is without question, an important event not only in contemporary Islam, but for the world too, and yet it is one that has been ignored these past few decades. Now, finally, the untold story of the 11/20/79 seizure of the Grand Mosque, has been pieced together by Trofimov, who has written what ought to be regarded as one of the most important books of the year. Surprisingly, Trofimov covers much terrain in what proves to be a relatively terse book on this bloody episode in recent Saudi Arabian history, emphasizing the origins, but even, the aftermath of this attack, which, he asserts was the first of many bloody incidents of Islamofascist terror leading up to the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks.

Trofimov opens with a brief, but concise, history of both the Saudi royal family, emphasizing its 20th Century history and, especially, of the fundamentalist Sunni Islam sect known as Wahhabism; a sect which has been preaching Islamic Jihad (`Holy War") against the Western infidels encroaching upon Middle Eastern land for centuries. He emphasizes the close, centuries-old ties between the al-Saud family and Wahhabi clerics, reminding us of an early 19th Century Saudi-led effort to conquer the entire Arabian peninsula, hoping to transform it into a Wahhabi Islamic state; an attempt defeated only by an Egyptian military force acting on behalf of the Ottoman Sultan, after more than five years of bloody warfare (The Saudi ruler was finally captured, taken to Constantinople, and beheaded there amidst "fireworks and a public celebration".). A century later, the Saudis were far more successful in their religiously-motivated desire for empire-building, imposing upon their newly conquered domains, a strict adherence to Wahhabi Sunni Islam, cleverly using a crack troop of fanatical Wahhabis, the Ikwan, to lead the conquest of much of Arabia from the early 1910s to the late 1920s. Eventually, however, the Ikwan revolted against the Saudis, appalled by the king's embrace of Western beliefs and technology, such as telephones, only to be crushed decisively at the March 1929 battle of Sbala. Years later, one of these Ikwan veterans would celebrate the birth of a son, Juhayman, the future mastermind behind the 11/20/79 seizure of the Grand Mosque.

Through Juhayman's eyes, Trofimov traces the rise of radical Islamist movements throughout the Middle East, especially Egypt, from the 1950s through 1970s. Juhayman acquires his devout, fanatical adherence to Wahhabism via service as a member of the Saudi National Guard. Eventually he's influenced strongly by the charismatic blind cleric Bin Baz; the arch foe of Saudi Arabia's incessant rush towards modernization, criticizing sales of cigarettes, displaying portraits of the royal family in public buildings, and, in particular, the emerging emancipation of Saudi women. But Juhayman would go much further than Bin Baz, by criticizing the very existence of the Saudi kingdom in a religious manifesto smuggled out of the country, and published in neighboring Kuwait. He would anoint a young religious student, Mohammed Abdullah, as Islam's Mahdi (redeemer), destined to lead the faithful at the Grand Mosque at the dawn of Islam's 14th Century (11/20/79). He would smuggle arms and munitions into the Grand Mosque, drawing elaborate plans for its seizure at the dawn of the new century; plans which nearly resulted in success.

Trofimov demonstrates that not just the Saudi ruling family, but the West, too, was caught completely off guard by Juhayman's seizure of the Grand Mosque. While some of this was attributable to a strict ban against non-Muslims entering Mecca itself; another, equally compelling, reason was the ongoing hostage crisis at the United States Embassy in Teheran, Iran (Erroneously, at first, Iran was thought to have been the foreign power responsible for the siege itself.). A bloody comedy of errors ensues, as ill-equipped Saudi troops try storming the mosque, only to be mowed down by superior weaponry possessed by Juhayman and his band of militants (A band that includes Afro-Americans with military training.). Meanwhile, the Saudi family receives permission from leading Wahhabi clerics - including Bin Baz - to mount an all-out assault upon the mosque itself, in exchange for ending the family's modest efforts at Western-influenced modernization, and other measures which set the stage for the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks upon America itself. Last, but not least, at the Saudi family's urging, France sends an elite team of anti-terrorist commandos and tear gas; it is this team that directs the final, successful assault upon the mosque.
21 internautes sur 22 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Explains a Lot! 7 octobre 2007
Par Loyd E. Eskildson - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
November 20, 1979 was the first day of Islam's year 1400, and the beginning of the third week of the Iranian hostage situation. Much less well known, though probably more important, it also brought the siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and launched modern jihad. "The Siege of Mecca" tells that story, despite the closed Saudi Arabian society and its highly restricted coverage of the event - at least partly because the royal family's response was seen as incompetent and lessening loyalty among its citizens.

Mixing with the locals inside the mosque were 100,000 Muslims from all over the world. Hidden among them were hundreds of rebels, mostly Saudis of Bedouin stock. They smuggled in arms inside caskets supposedly carrying dead relatives brought for blessing.

Ragged-looking rebels chained shut and guarded all 51 gates as soon as the regular prayers ended. Machine-gun nests were set up atop the shrine's 7 minarets. The Saudis imposed a communications blackout and its soldiers were reluctant to act for fear of condemnation for fighting fellow Muslims in a holy place. Obtaining that essential religious support required that the Saudi rulers commit to stricter Islamic observation - no more women on TV, billions to be spent spreading rigid Wahhabi Islam around the world, etc.

The Saudi Army then blasted the snipers out of the minarets (using U.S. Army TOW missiles), and then brought in armored personnel carriers to clear out the rebels in the above-ground portion of the mosque. Unfortunately, the mosque had a seemingly impenetrable underground labyrinth of rooms and tunnels that still housed rebels, and the Saudis were unable to dislodge them.

Jordan volunteered help, but was declined because of the site's history - originally taken from Jordan. The CIA was not used - presumably because this would have required Carter's authorization. Thus, the Saudis went to the French, and were given three commandos as advisers. Their strategy involved wider use of a stronger gas than the Saudis had used, and successfully led to retaking the shrine.

The two week takeover brought an estimated 1,000 casualties, per independent experts (vs. the Saudi estimate of 500). Saudi intelligence brought no warning of the siege - it had been focused on Communists, nationalists, and pro-Iranian revolutionaries. After the takeover the Wahhabis decided to support the Saudi Arabian government as a defense against Communism in Afghanistan and the Shiite heresy from Iran. Unfortunately, the militant strains of Islam greatly benefited from the new support, and al Qaeda eventually was born.
13 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Highly recommended... 4 octobre 2007
Par Tom Acemoglu - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Yaroslav Trofimov's "The Siege of Mecca" is an attempt at forging a secret history of Al-Qaeda through the lens of an oft-forgotten 1979 uprising in the Grand Mosque in Mecca that has been all but forgotten in many modern histories. The precise information of the uprising was suppressed in media outlets by the Saudi government in order to avoid upsetting Saudi Arabia's public perception and the delicate situation the Saudi royal family was in as caretakers of the two holiest cities in Islam. Trofimov weaves a multi-faceted account of what happened, showing how the mistakes of well-meaning individuals at all levels on the world stage helped contribute to the current climate of radical Islamic fundamentalism.

The book is a quick read, well paced and well-researched, Trofimov relying both on perviously hard to obtain offical records regarding the uprising and his own extensive rearch and interviews. He has provided a great service in assembling good research in a book that is accessible to anyone with interest.

But most important are the lessons that are learned from the book. Trofimov reminds us that, while we are rarely gifted with the gift of foresight in our involvement in world affairs, it pays to learn from the past. The raw ideological materials for al-Qaeda were present 30 years ago, but the imminent concerns of the Soviet Union and the Ayatollah's Iran prevented this seemingly isolated incident to be recognized as the eventual world threat that it would turn into. With the fate of our future involvement in the Iraq war looming and with many in our nation preferring isolationism and the satisfaction of our imminent concerns over our participation in the world scene, it would do us good to remember that, like it or not, there's a world out there that's aware of us even if we are not aware of it.
13 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A view into the mindsets. 2 octobre 2007
Par shr nfr - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
While this book is a valuable history of the attempted takeover of Mecca to install a purported Mahdi, its greatest value is its insights into workings of the House of Saud and the mindsets of the Sunni and Shia of the area. It reads very well and is highly detailed and well researched. Alas, the circumstances that it describes are still with us today. If you wish to understand some of the current Iraq, Iran, and Middle East situation as we now have it, read this book along with authors such as Qutb, Vali Nassr, etc. Very simply a must have book for today.
11 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 On not judging a book by its cover 25 juin 2008
Par John P. Jones III - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
I was prepared to dislike this book, suspecting an "action pack thriller", full of loopy historical inaccuracies, if not outright fantasy - all because of the jarring black and red cover. Instead I found a lean, scholarly, and almost certainly dispassionately accurate account of one of the more important and not very well understood events in the last quarter of the 20th Century. It is written in a fast-paced action style, flipping back and forth among the major actors in this drama, but that enhances and does not hinder his story. Ramifications of this siege are affecting us today.

Mr. Trofimov knows his subject well, amazingly well. He deftly describes the numerous disparate historical antecedents to the taking of the mosque by Islamic fanatics, and the reactions of the major actors. The Ikhwan, the religious brotherhood which was instrumental in Abdul Aziz's conquest and consolidation of what would be the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and his decision that they overstepped their limits, and so he had to mow them down with borrowed British machine guns in the early `30's, leading to a sense of martyrdom in the remnants of the defeated communities. America was tired of "foreign adventures," Vietnam being the prime reason, and therefore the CIA was severely constrained, with the coups it directed in Chile and Iran very much in mind. There was the Kingdom itself, being overwhelmed by the "future shock" of oil revenues, and the attendant rapid "modernization," with its own ills, inevitably leaving some people behind

As with many events of this magnitude, ironies abound; they are described but not overplayed. The Royal Family must obtain a ruling from the Ulema, the chief religious body, that force can be used to remove the rebels, yet philosophically, the Ulema is in large measure in agreement with the complaints of the rebels. For days virtually no one knows the exact identify of the people who seized the mosque, so the United States insists it was Iran, and the Shiites; meanwhile Iran is insisting it is the United States and the infidels. Perhaps the best trained Arab force that could assist the Saudis is the Hashemite Jordanians, but they can not be used since they were once rulers in the Hejaz, were defeated by Abdul Aziz, and if they returned, "may not leave." Eventually the Saudis turned to the French, "because they were discreet and could keep a secret," which also proved false.

I found the section of the French involvement particularly fascinating, since it dispelled the rumors that had dominated this topic, and described in an authoritative manner the exact nature of the fairly limited intervention (3 men, and supplies). Characteristically of Trofimov's account, he states the facts which he could ascertain, but does not speculate whether Barril, one of the three Frenchmen, actually entered Mecca.

Equally important was the depiction of the immediate ramifications throughout the Muslim world, who blamed the United States, in large part because of Khomeini. US Embassies in Libya and Pakistan were burned, with loss of American life.

John Burgess, on his CrossRoads Arabia website, pointed out some (relatively minor) flaws in Trofimov's book, citing the reason that the Bedouin were settled was not, as Trofimov contends, to better perform their ablutions, but rather to stop their raiding. I'd add a couple of my own: the Nejd would never be described as the "central Arabian highlands" (p14), and, of course, 1400 is not the first year of new century, 1401 is.

On a personal note, I traveled by road in the Asir, from Abha to Taif, one week prior to the taking of the mosque, and may very well have passed some of the participants. On that trip, at a police checkpoint, was the only time in my 20 years in the Kingdom, that a Muslim did not give the proper response to my "As-Salaam Alikum" greeting; the followers of Juhayman believe(d) that a Muslim should not respond to an infidel when he gave the traditional greeting.

In Trofimov's summing up, he correctly identifies Juhayman's deed as only one of the currents which lead to the formation of Al Qaeda. He also points out a second one, arriving from Egypt, in the person of Ayman Al Zawahir (who had been inspired by the execution of his hero, Sayyid Qutb). Of course, a third could easily be postulated: the unintended consequences, a/k/a "blowback" in CIA jargon, of America and Saudi Arabia funding and arming Islamic fundamentalist to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. And a fourth: the CIA coup against the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953.

Epilogues can be used to examine some of the "what ifs" of an event. One of the rumors concerning Juhayman's capture stated that he had asked: "But where are the armies of the north"? Trofimov does not cover this, and only alludes to the self-delusional nature of individuals who succumb to millennial dogmas; the alleged Mahdi believes that he is "bullet proof," with the attendant fatal consequences. How many of my fellow citizens believe in the "rapture," the postulated end of the world when Christ returns, and would actually like to hasten the date? And "what if" they took concrete actions to accomplish this goal? Our own Juhayman...

Trofimov account is almost certainly the best account we will ever have on the seizure of the mosque in Mecca in 1979, and is highly recommended.
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