1979 Grand Mosque Siege

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The Grand Mosque in Mecca (home of the Kaaba) was briefly taken over for a period of weeks by an obscure group led by a poorly educated Bedouin named Juhayman[1] whose theology was an early manifestation of modern violent Salafism. These believers did not embrace many aspects of modern society. They opposed identity cards and passports because these denote loyalty to an entity other than Allah. They were against images of living beings, not only on television and in photography but also on coins. The only previous violent encounter was when a group of young activists were caught smashing shop display windows showing female mannequins in the center of Medina in 1965. And they had peculiar views on ritual practices setting them apart from other religious communities and the religious establishment.

The incident revealed the Saudi state was thoroughly unprepared to deal with a challenge to its legitimacy from conservative religious believers.[2] After three days of fruitless negotiations, the Saudi's turned to external, non-Islamic "crusader" forces to dislodge the jihadis. Non-Muslims are not allowed within the city of Mecca, and bloodshed on the grounds of the temple is considered virtually an unpardonable sin; yet the Saudi state and its reigning religious establishment deputized, through a fatwa, the French Special Operations Forces to retake the mosque.[3][4]

Official reports say that 255 fanatics, troops and pilgrims were killed, while 560 were injured. The rebels who survived were imprisoned or beheaded, with reports claiming 63 beheadings.

The respected imam Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, who abhorred violence, condemned Juhayman's attack; however one of his students, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, fell under the influence of Juhayman's thought. In coming years Maqdisi further developed the idea that the ruling Saudi clan were apostate Muslim infidels along with a rejection of the very idea of a nation state.[5]


  1. Review of The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam's Holiest Shrine and the Birth of al Qaeda, Yaroslav Trofimov, Doubleday, 2007.
  2. Thomas Hegghammer and Stephane Lacroix. Rejectionist Islamism in Saudi Arabia: The Story of Juhayman al-Utaybi Revisited. International Journal of Middle East Studies, February 2007, pp 103-122, Cambridge University Press.
  3. Many details of the Mosque takeover remain officially classified Saudi state secrets. The Makkan Siege: In Defense of Juhayman, a collection of internet reports on the siege and excerpts of Juhayman's letters. Juhayman is considered to have provided more inspiration to the the modern jihadist movement than Osama bin Laden who left virtually no religious writings behind.
  4. Peterson, J.E. “Saudi Arabia: Internal Security Incidents Since 1979.” Arabian Peninsula Background Note, No. APBN-003. Published on www.JEPeterson.net, January 2004; updated 31 December 2007.
  5. Maqdisi's Community of Abraham is a further expansion of Juhayman's Clarification Concerning the Community of the One God Designated as Guide of the People; Awakening Islam, Stephane Lacroix & George Holoch, Harvard University Press, Aug 15, 2011, Page 101.