institute a theocracy in preparation for the imminent apocalypse. Many of their followers weredrawn from theology students at theIslamic University in Medina, which was known as a center of theMuslim Brotherhood. Other followers came fromYemen,Kuwait, andEgyptand also
included some MuslimAfrican-Americans. The followers preached their radical message indifferent mosques in Saudi Arabia without being arrested.
The government was reluctant toconfront religious extremists. Members of theulemacross-examined Otaibi and Qahtani for heresy, but they were subsequently released as being traditionalists harkening back to theIkhwan, like Oteibi's grandfather, and not a threat.
Due to donations from wealthy followers, the group was well-armed and trained. Somemembers, like Otaibi, were members of the National Guard.
Some National Guard troopssympathetic to the insurgents infiltrated weapons, ammunition, gas masks, and provisions intothe mosque compound over a period of weeks before the new year.
Automatic weapons werestolen from National Guard armories, and the supplies were hidden in the hundreds of tinyunderground rooms under the mosque that were used ashermitages.
In the early morning of November 20,1979, the imam of the Grand Mosque, SheikhMohammed
al-Subayil, was preparing to lead the prayers for the fifty thousand worshipers who had gatheredfor the first prayer of the Islamic year. He was interrupted by insurgents who procured weaponsfrom under their robes, chained the gates shut and killed several policemen.
The number of insurgents has been given as "at least 500"
and "four to five hundred", which included severalwomen and children who had joined Otaibi's movement.
At the time, the Grand Mosque was being renovated by theSaudi Binladin Groupin what was the most prestigious constructioncontract in theIslamic world. An employee of the organization was able to report the seizure tocorporate headquarters before the insurgents cut the telephone lines. A representative of theBinladin Group was thus the first to notifyKing Khalid.
The insurgents released most of the hostages, locking the remainder in the sanctuary, and took positions in the upper levels of the mosque, with snipers in the minarets, from which theycommanded the grounds. No one outside the mosque knew how many hostages remained, howmany militants were in the mosque and what sort of preparations they had made. Soon after theseizure, about a hundred security officers from theInterior Ministryattempted to retake themosque and were decisively turned back with heavy casualties. The survivors were quickly joined by units of the Saudi Army and National Guard. The Pakistan Army, which was stationedat the city of Tabuk, was also called in to retake the shrine after poor results from the Saudi National Guard.
By the evening, the entire city of Mecca had been evacuated.Prince Sultan, then-Minister of Defense, rushed to the city to set up a field command. Sultan appointed his nephewTurki binFaisal Al Saud, head of theAl Mukhabarat Al A'amah, to take over the forward command post
several hundred meters from the mosque, where Turki would remain for the next several weeks.However, the first order of business was to seek the approval of the ulema, which was led byAbdul Aziz bin Baz. TheQur'anforbids any violence within the Grand Mosque, to the extent that