In The Siege of Mecca, acclaimed journalist Yaroslav Trofimov pulls back the curtain on a thrilling, pivotal, and overlooked episode of modern history, examining its repercussions on the Middle East and the world.
On November 20, 1979, worldwide attention was focused on Tehran, where the Iranian hostage crisis was entering its third week. That same morning, gunmen stunned the world by seizing the Grand Mosque in Mecca, creating a siege that trapped 100,000 people and lasted two weeks, inflaming Muslim rage against the United States and causing hundreds of deaths. But in the days before CNN and Al Jazeera, the press barely took notice. Trofimov interviews for the first time scores of direct participants in the siege, and draws upon hundreds of newly declassified documents. With the pacing, detail, and suspense of a real-life thriller, The Siege of Mecca reveals the long-lasting aftereffects of the uprising and its influence on the world today.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
September 07, 2008
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Siege of Mecca by Yaroslav Trofimov
INTRODUCTION The holy city of Mecca looked deceptively calm as the first dawn of the new century started to break behind craggy mountains. Splashing his face with cold water, the Grand Mosque’s bearded imam fastened a beige-hued cloak over his shoulders and muttered praises to the Lord. The time to lead the morning’s first prayer was minutes away. Under his window, the mosque’s floodlit courtyard was filling up quickly. The hajj pilgrimage season, when this stadium-size enclosure was traversed by more than a million worshippers, had already ended. Yet Mecca remained jam-packed with the faithful. Many of them had spent the night inside Islam’s holiest shrine, curling up on wool carpets in the Grand Mosque’s multistory labyrinth of nearly a thousand rooms. As usual, these worshippers camped along with their bundles, mattresses, and suitcases that nobody had bothered to check. Following custom, many hauled in wooden coffins, hoping that the imam would bestow on decomposing relatives inside the precious blessings that can only be received in such a sacred precinct. Today, some of these coffins contained an unusual cargo: Kalashnikov assault rifles, Belgian-made FN-FAL guns, bullet belts, and an assortment of pistols. The men who had smuggled this arsenal into the mosque sought an ambitious goal: to reverse the flow of world history, sparking a global war that would finally lead to Islam’s total victory and to a destruction of arrogant Christians and Jews. The date was the First of Muharram of Islam’s year 1400–which in calendars kept by infidel Westerners corresponded to November 20, 1979. For the natives of Mecca, a city that lives off the flood of humanity that has coursed through its shrines since time immemorial, this Tuesday morning promised a particularly joyful occasion: New Year’s day is when, according to tradition, the Meccans make a pilgrimage of their own to the Grand Mosque. In darkness, thousands trekked to the outskirts of the city, shedding everyday clothes after a shower and returning in the pilgrims’ snow whiteihramoutfits–two towel-like garments that symbolize purity and leave men’s right shoulders exposed. Mixing in with the locals were as many as 100,000 visitors from all over the world–Pakistanis and Indonesians, Moroccans and Yemenis, Nigerians and Turks. Some were stragglers left behind after the hajj, entrepreneurial pilgrims who, year after year, try to offset the cost of their passage by reselling in Mecca’s bazaars exotic wares from their remote homelands. Others had arrived in Mecca just to witness the turn of the century–a once-in-a-lifetime event. Hidden in this human sea were hundreds of grim-faced rebels, many of them sporting red checkered headdresses. Some had been inside the mosque for days, reconnoitering its maze of corridors and passageways. Others were bused in during the night by a friendly religious academy. Yet others drove their own cars to Mecca this morning, arriving at the last minute and accompanied by children and wives to allay guards’ suspicions. Most of these conspirators were Saudis of Bedouin stock, though their ranks also brimmed with foreigners, if such a word had a meaning for men who believed in the single citizenship of Islam. They even included African American converts, inspired by a new faith and hardened by race riots half a world away. The color of the cloudless sky just started to turn from grayish to pink when the dawn ritual began, as it does that time of the year, at 5:18 a.m.“La ilaha ila Allah,”the deep-voiced prayer call rang from new loudspeakers affixed atop the mosque’s seven towering minarets: “There is no god but Allah.” Baref