The Siege of Mecca | The Assassination of Sadat | Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Reagan's Intervention
War in Afghanistan and the Mujahideen | Saudi Arabia, 1975-86 | The First Palestinian Intifada and the Downing of Pan Am Flight 103
Israelis and Palestinians, 1991 to 2000 | Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to 2000
Juhayman, whose family was of Bedouin and Wahhabi heritage, had served in the Saudi National Guard, reaching the rank of corporal before retiring in 1973. He had not forgiven King al Saud "for the indignities that had been inflicted upon his kin." He believed that the Saud family had become corrupted by things Western. He was in tune with a teacher of his, the blind cleric Bin Baz, who was opposed to hanging pictures, clapping hands and any kind of emancipation for women, including women as teachers for boys. Juhayman built a movement dedicated to overthrowing Saud family power and establishing rule that was true to Islam. The turn of the century was coming, the year 1400 according to the Islamic calendar, and it was seen by Juhayman as having a supernatural significance. Juhayman and friends saw a number of divine signs and believed that with the new century would appear the prophesied redeemer of Islam: the Mahdi.
In the early morning of November 20, 1979, at the Grand Mosque were the conspirators, "hundreds" in number, among the more than 100,000 pilgrims from around the world. Juhayman's men closed all gates to the mosque, fired their weapons into the air and announced what they were doing. The pilgrims were now prisoners. One by one, with weapons in hand, the conspirators knelt down, kissed the supposed Mahdi's hand and offered an oath. Some pilgrims joined in.
A message from the Ayatollah Khomeini was broadcast over Iranian radio accusing the U.S. and Israel of being those who were orchestrating the horrors in Mecca.
Saudi authority decided that their troops were too slow in defeating the rebels and that Saudi family rule was indeed threatened. Reluctant to seek help from the U.S., the Saudis approached the French, who sent three men from their secret force, the Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN), to train Saudi officers in efficient tactics.
A threat to the government existed also in an uprising from November 25 to November 30 in Saudi Arabia's eastern oil producing region, along the Persian Gulf. The rebels there were youths belonging to the county's Shiite minority, moved by rumors about the events in Mecca. The Saudi government blacked out all news of the uprising in the eastern region. Blood flowed there, the Saudi National Guard using armored personnel carriers, machine guns, helicopter gunships and artillery. The uprising ended with the rioting youths dispersed and in shock and an older generation of Shiite leaders successfully suing for peace.
The last of the rebels in the basement of the Grand Mosque, including Juhayman, were taken prisoner on December 5. A few days later, U.S. negotiators flew to Oman to discuss establishing a military base.
On January 9, 1980, Juhayman and 62 of his followers were beheaded. The cleric Bin Baz and other radical clergy, described by some as Wahhabi, had switched sides, favoring Saudi authority. Bin Baz (Abd-al-Aziz ibn Abd-Allah ibn Baaz), in 1992 would be appointed Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Head of the Council of Senior Scholars and president of the administration for scientific research and legal rulings.
According to Yaroslav Trofimov, author of The Siege of Mecca, one of those who had a "personal bond" with Juhayman's movement was a Palestinian preacher, Isam al Barqawi, alias Abut Mohammed al Maqdisi. Maqdisi wrote that Juhayman had been wrong about the Mahdi but that this was "nothing compared to the enormous crimes of the Saudi government." Maqdisi argued that by sending soldiers against Juhayman, the Saudi state was the first to violate Koranic prohibitions against waging warfare in "the holy precinct." And one of those influenced by Maqdisi was the person who planted the bomb, in November 1995, that destroyed the National Guard building in Riyadh, killing seven people, including five Americans. Maqdisi at this time was behind bars in Jordan. His cell mate "a co-conspirator and favored pupil" was Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the future leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.
The author The Siege of Mecca, Yaroslav Trofimov, writes that Osama bin Laden, a Saudi citizen and 23 at the time of the siege at Mecca, could not help but feel sympathy for Juhayman and his cause. In the mid-1980s according to an associate, bin Laden in a private conversation said that "the men who seized the Mosque were true Muslims." Trofimov writes that after the massive deployment of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia in 1990-91, bin Laden "started to repeat almost word for word Juhayman's repudiations of the [Saudi] royal family." Bin Laden railed against non-muslims on Saudi soil, against banks violating Islamic prohibitions on usury, and against "the royal family's dalliance with Christian powers." And in 2004, on tape, bin Laden praised Juhayman and faulted the Saudi regime for having defiled the sanctity of the Grand Mosque.
Copyright © 2007-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.