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Grand Mosque Seizure (MECCA) 1979 – World History – Free PDF Download


  • The Grand Mosque seizure occurred during November and December 1979 when armed civilians calling for the overthrow of the House of Saud took over Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
  • The insurgents declared that the Mahdi (the “redeemer of Islam”) had arrived in the form of one of their leaders, Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani, and called on Muslims to obey him.
  • For nearly two weeks Saudi Special Forces, advised by three GIGN French commandos, fought battles to reclaim the compound


  • The seizure was led by Juhayman al-Otaybi, a member of an influential family in Najd. He declared his brother-in-law Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani to be the Mahdi, or redeemer, who arrives on earth several years before Judgement Day.
  • The date of the attack, 20 November 1979, was the first day of the year 1400 according to the Islamic calendar.


  • “Al-Otaybi had turned against Bin-Baaz and began advocating a return to the original ways of Islam, among other things: a repudiation of the West; abolition of television and expulsion of nonMuslims”.
  • He proclaimed that “the ruling Al-Saud dynasty had lost its legitimacy because it was corrupt, ostentatious and had destroyed Saudi culture by an aggressive policy of Westernization”.He regarded radio, television and working women to be great “evils.“
  • Their declared goal was to institute a theocracy in preparation for the imminent apocalypse. SIEGE • Because of donations from wealthy followers, the group was well-armed and trained. Some members, like alOtaybi, were former military officials of the National Guard.
  • Some National Guard troops sympathetic to the insurgents smuggled weapons, ammunition, gas masks and provisions into the mosque compound over a period of weeks before the new year.
  • Automatic weapons were smuggled from National Guard armories and the supplies were hidden in the hundreds of tiny underground rooms under the mosque that were used as hermitages.


  • In the early morning of 20 November 1979, the imam of the Grand Mosque, Sheikh Mohammed al-Subayil , was preparing to lead prayers for the 50,000 worshippers who had gathered for prayer.
  • At around 5:00 am he was interrupted by insurgents who produced weapons from under their robes, chained the gates shut and killed two policemen who were armed with only wooden clubs for hitting people who were not listening to them.
  • They took defensive positions in the upper levels of the mosque, and sniper positions in the minarets, from which they commanded the grounds.
  • No one outside the mosque knew how many hostages remained, how many militants were in the mosque and what sort of preparations they had made.


  • Soon after the rebel seizure, about 100 security officers of the Ministry of Interior attempted to retake the mosque, but were turned back with heavy casualties.
  • The survivors were quickly joined by units of the Saudi Arabian Army and National Guard. By evening the entire city of Mecca had been evacuated.
  • With religious approval granted, Saudi forces launched frontal assaults on three of the main gates. Again the assaulting force was repulsed as they were unable to break through the insurgents’ defences.
  • The insurgents aired their demands from the mosque’s loudspeakers throughout the streets of Mecca, calling for the cut-off of oil exports to the United States and the expulsion of all foreign civilian and military experts from the Arabian Peninsula.


  • Officially, the Saudi government took the position that it would not aggressively retake the mosque, but rather starve out the militants.
  • According to a US embassy cable of 1 December, several of the militant leaders escaped the siege and days later sporadic fighting erupted in other parts of the city.
  • The battle had lasted for more than two weeks, and had officially left “255 pilgrims, troops and fanatics” killed and “another 560 injured … although diplomats suggested the toll was higher.” Military casualties were 127 dead and 451 injured.


  • Anger fuelled by these rumours spread anti-American demonstrations throughout the Muslim world following the takeover, the U.S. embassy in Iran was overrun by a mob, which burned the embassy to the ground. A week later, in Tripoli, Libya another mob attacked and burned the U.S. embassy.
  • Al-Qahtani was killed in the recapture of the mosque but Juhayman and 67 of his fellow rebels who survived the assault were captured and later beheaded.They were not shown leniency.
  • On 9 January 1980, 63 rebels were publicly beheaded in the squares of eight Saudi cities.


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