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The Siege of Mecca – The Forgotten Uprising

By: Yaroslav Trofimov (452.2/35776)
Publisher : Penguin Books ISBN:9781846140600

The Siege of Mecca is an astonishing work of reportage; a gripping account of one of the most dramatic events of the twentieth century. And, until now, one of the most shrouded in secrecy.

On the morning of 20 November 1979, the first of a new Muslim century, hundreds of gunmen from more than a dozen countries, armed with rifles smuggled inside coffins, stormed the Grand Mosque in Mecca. These men were defiling Islam’s holiest shrine and launching the first operation of global jihad in modern times. Led by a Saudi preacher named Juhayman al Uteybi, they believed the Saudi royal family had become corrupt and sought a return to the glory of uncompromising Islam. With nearly 100,000 worshippers trapped inside the holy compound, Mecca’s bloody siege lasted two weeks, causing hundreds of deaths and inflaming Muslim rage around the world.

The Saudi royal family proved haplessly incapable haplessly incapable of dislodging the occupiers. In desperation they enlisted the help of French commandos led by the battle-hardened Captain Paul Barril, who prepared the final assault and supplied poison gas that finally knocked out the insurgents. Though most captured gunmen were quickly beheaded, the royal family responded to this unprecedented challenge by compromising with the rebels’ supporters among the kingdom’s most senior clerics, helping them nurture and export Juhayman’s violent brand of Islam around the world.

This dramatic story was barely covered by the international media in pre-CNN, pre-al-Jazeera days, as Saudi Arabia imposed an information blackout and kept foreign correspondents away. Yaroslav Trofimov now penetrates this veil of silence, interviewing scores of direct participants in the siege, including former terrorists, for the first time and drawing on hundreds of documents that have been declassified on his request. He reveals how Saudi reaction to the uprising in Mecca unleashed the forces that would eventually lead to the attacks of 9/11, and to the events unfolding in the world today.

April 2008


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