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Trofimov on Mecca's Forgotten Uprising, World Affairs Council: No r Cal Yaroslav Trofimov talks in the following video about his book The Siege of Mecca : The Forgotten Uprising in Islam's Holiest Shrine and the Birth of Al Qaeda, pu blished by Doubleday. The author talks about the 1979 seige of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the consequences of the Saudi government's efforts to end it. Mr. T rofimov argues that this event eventually led to the creation of Al Qaeda and ot her jihadists groups. from World Affairs Council: Nor Cal on FORA.tv
The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam's Holiest Shrine and the Bir th of al-Qaeda [Hardcover] Publisher: Doubleday (September 18, 2007) Pages 301
On November 20, 1979, worldwide attention was focused on Tehran, where the Irani an hostage crisis was entering its third week. The same morning—the first of a new Muslim century—hundreds of gunmen stunned the world by seizing Islam’s holiest shri ne, the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Armed with rifles that they had smuggled inside c offins, these men came from more than a dozen countries, launching the first ope ration of global jihad in modern times. Led by a Saudi preacher named Juhayman a l Uteybi, they believed that the Saudi royal family had become a craven servant of American infidels, and sought a return to the glory of uncompromising Islam. With nearly 100,000 worshippers trapped inside the holy compound, Mecca’s bloody s iege lasted two weeks, inflaming Muslim rage against the United States and causi ng hundreds of deaths. Despite U.S. assistance, the Saudi royal family proved haplessly incapable of di slodging the occupier, whose ranks included American converts to Islam. In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini blamed the Great Satan—the United States —for defiling the shrin e, prompting mobs to storm and torch American embassies in Pakistan and Libya. T he desperate Saudis finally enlisted the help of French commandos led by tough-a s-nails Captain Paul Barril, who prepared the final assault and supplied poison gas that knocked out the insurgents. Though most captured gunmen were quickly be headed, the Saudi royal family responded to this unprecedented challenge by comp romising with the rebels’ supporters among the kingdom’s most senior clerics, helpin g them nurture and export Juhayman’s violent brand of Islam around the world. This dramatic and immensely consequential story was barely covered in the press in the pre-CNN, pre–Al Jazeera days, as Saudi Arabia imposed an information blacko ut and kept foreign correspondents away. Yaroslav Trofimov now penetrates this v eil of silence, interviewing for the first time scores of direct participants in the siege, including former terrorists, and drawing on hundreds of documents th at had been declassified on his request. Written with the pacing, detail, and su spense of a real-life thriller, The Siege of Mecca reveals how Saudi reaction to the uprising in Mecca set free the forces that produced the attacks of 9/11, an d the harrowing circumstances that surround us today.
Editorial ReviewsFrom Publishers Weekly Trofimov, a Wall Street Journal writer and observer of the Muslim world (Faith a t War), tackles an incident unreported in the West: the violent takeover of Isla m s holiest shrine by Muslim fundamentalists in 1979. Carrying out his investiga tions in one of the world s most closed societies, Trofimov has crafted a compel ling historical narrative, blending messianic theology with righteous violence, and the Saudi state s sclerotic corruption with the complicity of the official r eligious institutions. Trofimov aptly points out endemic regional problems with enduring repercussions for fighting terror, but is hampered by his sensationalis t 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 Osa ma bin Laden s older brother. Ringleader Juhayman and his followers have inspire d 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 m embers 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. Review Advance Praise for The Siege of Mecca “Yaroslav Trofimov has written a spellbinding thriller. Packed with vivid, previou sly undisclosed details, it illuminates a little-known hostage crisis in the clo sed-off heart of the Muslim world that helped give rise to Al Qaeda. Once I star ted reading, I couldn t put the book down.” —Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq s Green Zone “As Yaroslav Trofimov amply and skillfully demonstrates, the most radioactive part icle in the world today is not North Korea, Iran, or, for that matter, the Unite d States. It is, rather, the terrifying bundle of contradictions otherwise known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The most formative event in the modern history of this secretive and at times morally disgusting petrocracy is vivisected by Tr ofimov to unsettling effect, and he reminds us of why anything that has happened or will happen there is a matter of great concern to the world.” —Tom Bissell, author of God Lives in St. Petersburg and The Father of All Things ---
The Untold Story of Islam s Worst Terrorist Attack in Its Holy Land and of the O rigins of Al-Qaeda, December 19, 2007 By John Kwok (New York, NY USA) Reading just like a classic thriller written by the likes of Graham Greene or Jo hn Le Carre, Wall Street Journal reporter Yaroslav Trofimov s "The Siege of Mecc a" is an important, comprehensive examination of the events leading up to the tw o-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 spectac ular 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 y et it is one that has been ignored these past few decades. Now, finally, the unt
old 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 import ant 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 hi story, emphasizing the origins, but even, the aftermath of this attack, which, h e 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 Su nni 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 f amily and Wahhabi clerics, reminding us of an early 19th Century Saudi-led effor t 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 a midst "fireworks and a public celebration".). A century later, the Saudis were f ar more successful in their religiously-motivated desire for empire-building, im posing upon their newly conquered domains, a strict adherence to Wahhabi Sunni I slam, 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 o f Western beliefs and technology, such as telephones, only to be crushed decisiv ely 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 1 1/20/79 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. Juha yman acquires his devout, fanatical adherence to Wahhabism via service as a memb er of the Saudi National Guard. Eventually he s influenced strongly by the chari smatic blind cleric Bin Baz; the arch foe of Saudi Arabia s incessant rush towar ds modernization, criticizing sales of cigarettes, displaying portraits of the r oyal family in public buildings, and, in particular, the emerging emancipation o f Saudi women. But Juhayman would go much further than Bin Baz, by criticizing t he 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 religi ous student, Mohammed Abdullah, as Islam s Mahdi (redeemer), destined to lead th e faithful at the Grand Mosque at the dawn of Islam s 14th Century (11/20/79). H e would smuggle arms and munitions into the Grand Mosque, drawing elaborate plan s 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 Mecc a itself; another, equally compelling, reason was the ongoing hostage crisis at the United States Embassy in Teheran, Iran (Erroneously, at first, Iran was thou ght 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, o nly to be mowed down by superior weaponry possessed by Juhayman and his band of militants (A band that includes Afro-Americans with military training.). Meanwhi le, the Saudi family receives permission from leading Wahhabi clerics - includin g 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 othe r measures which set the stage for the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks upon America it self. Last, but not least, at the Saudi family s urging, France sends an elite t eam of anti-terrorist commandos and tear gas; it is this team that directs the f
inal, successful assault upon the mosque. ---October 7, 2007 By Loyd E. Eskildson "Pragmatist" (Phoenix, AZ.) November 20, 1979 was the first day of Islam s year 1400, and the beginning of t he third week of the Iranian hostage situation. Much less well known, though pro bably more important, it also brought the siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, an d launched modern jihad. "The Siege of Mecca" tells that story, despite the clos ed Saudi Arabian society and its highly restricted coverage of the event - at le ast partly because the royal family s response was seen as incompetent and lesse ning 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 brough t for blessing. Ragged-looking rebels chained shut and guarded all 51 gates as soon as the regul ar prayers ended. Machine-gun nests were set up atop the shrine s 7 minarets. Th e Saudis imposed a communications blackout and its soldiers were reluctant to ac t for fear of condemnation for fighting fellow Muslims in a holy place. Obtainin g that essential religious support required that the Saudi rulers commit to stri cter Islamic observation - no more women on TV, billions to be spent spreading r igid 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 rebe ls in the above-ground portion of the mosque. Unfortunately, the mosque had a se emingly impenetrable underground labyrinth of rooms and tunnels that still house d rebels, and the Saudis were unable to dislodge them. Jordan volunteered help, but was declined because of the site s history - origin ally taken from Jordan. The CIA was not used - presumably because this would hav e 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 stron ger 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 exp erts (vs. the Saudi estimate of 500). Saudi intelligence brought no warning of t he siege - it had been focused on Communists, nationalists, and pro-Iranian revo lutionaries. After the takeover the Wahhabis decided to support the Saudi Arabia n 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. --June 24, 2008 By John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) 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 j arring black and red cover. Instead I found a lean, scholarly, and almost certai nly dispassionately accurate account of one of the more important and not very w ell 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 thi s 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 num erous disparate historical antecedents to the taking of the mosque by Islamic fa natics, and the reactions of the major actors. The Ikhwan, the religious brother hood which was instrumental in Abdul Aziz s conquest and consolidation of what w ould be the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and his decision that they overstepped thei r limits, and so he had to mow them down with borrowed British machine guns in t he 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 direct ed in Chile and Iran very much in mind. There was the Kingdom itself, being over whelmed by the "future shock" of oil revenues, and the attendant rapid "moderniz ation," with its own ills, inevitably leaving some people behind As with many events of this magnitude, ironies abound; they are described but no t overplayed. The Royal Family must obtain a ruling from the Ulema, the chief re ligious 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. Fo r days virtually no one knows the exact identify of the people who seized the mo sque, 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 ca n not be used since they were once rulers in the Hejaz, were defeated by Abdul A ziz, 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 authori tative manner the exact nature of the fairly limited intervention (3 men, and su pplies). Characteristically of Trofimov s account, he states the facts which he could ascertain, but does not speculate whether Barril, one of the three Frenchm en, actually entered Mecca. Equally important was the depiction of the immediate ramifications throughout th e 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 min or) flaws in Trofimov s book, citing the reason that the Bedouin were settled wa s not, as Trofimov contends, to better perform their ablutions, but rather to st op 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 par ticipants. On that trip, at a police checkpoint, was the only time in my 20 year s in the Kingdom, that a Muslim did not give the proper response to my "As-Salaa m Alikum" greeting; the followers of Juhayman believe(d) that a Muslim should no t 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 seco nd one, arriving from Egypt, in the person of Ayman Al Zawahir (who had been ins pired by the execution of his hero, Sayyid Qutb). Of course, a third could easil y 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 e lected 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 th e armies of the north"? Trofimov does not cover this, and only alludes to the se lf-delusional nature of individuals who succumb to millennial dogmas; the allege d Mahdi believes that he is "bullet proof," with the attendant fatal consequence s. How many of my fellow citizens believe in the "rapture," the postulated end o f 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 s eizure of the mosque in Mecca in 1979, and is highly recommended. URL: http://www.newageislam.com/NewAgeIslamIslamTerrorismJihad_1.aspx?ArticleID= 6554
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