Overshadowed by other world crises in 1979, especially in Iran, the siege of Mecca has been largely forgotten. But it should not have been forgotten because it has set the stage for much of the terror that has ensued in the last 28 years. It was not exactly the birthplace of Al Quieda and Bin Laden but it gives a great insight into the trouble nature of the extremist regime of Suadi Arabia and how Saudi Arabia made a 'deal with the devil' by bringing in extremist cleric to help root out the more extremist people who had taken over the mosque. Rumours that a relative of Bin Laden was involved, the story of the beheadings of those who had participated, the claim that the French special forces called in to help converted to Islam so as not to 'offend' the Saudis and the story of the assault on American embassies throughout the Muslim world in the days that followed are all covered here.
The book begins with a discussion of the history of Saudi Arabia and its extreme religious foundations, its apartheid like legal system for men and women and the origins of the Wahhabi movement. THen the story jumps forward to describe the radicalization of several groups of Muslims, including Juhayman Said al Otaibi and his brother-in-law Muhammad bin abd Allah al-Qahtani as well as other gulf Arabs and even some African-American Muslims. On November 20th, 1979 this group of men invaded the Al-Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca, the Grand Mosque, and in the battles that followed some 250 people were killed. Saudi National Guardsmen were shot down easily by the well armed and trained rebels. This necccesitated the regimes work with the conservative cleric Sheikh Abdel Aziz al Baaz and the calling in of non-Muslim foreigners to help with the siege.
This is an expert story and the author not only tells it well but relates its history, its context and its aftermath, trying to show how this was pivotal in the increasing rise of Islamist terror in the Middle East that eventually culminated in Sept. 11.