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The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam's Holiest Shrine Paperback – September 9, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Action-packed. . . . [Trofimov] combines political analysis and breathless narrative to describe the deadliest terrorist attack prior to 9/11.” —Entertainment Weekly“Fascinating . . . remarkable. . . . Anyone can read The Siege of Mecca, and everyone should.” —The Washington Post“[The Siege of Mecca] begins with all the menace of a political thriller. . . . Riveting.” —Conde Nast Portfolio“A gripping, highly informed narrative of this momentous event.” —Financial Times

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (September 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307277739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307277732
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #317,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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