On November 20, 1979, worldwide attention was focused on Tehran, where the Iranian hostage crisis was entering its third week. The same morningthe first of a new Muslim centuryhundreds of gunmen stunned the world by seizing Islams holiest shrine, the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Armed with rifles that they had smuggled inside coffins, these men came from more than a dozen countries, launching the first operation of global jihad in modern times. Led by a Saudi preacher named Juhayman al Uteybi, they believed that the Saudi royal family had become a craven servant of American infidels, and sought a return to the glory of uncompromising Islam. With nearly 100,000 worshippers trapped inside the holy compound, Meccas bloody siege lasted two weeks, inflaming Muslim rage against the United States and causing hundreds of deaths.
Despite U.S. assistance, the Saudi royal family proved haplessly incapable of dislodging the occupier, whose ranks included American converts to Islam. In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini blamed the Great Satanthe United States for defiling the shrine, prompting mobs to storm and torch American embassies in Pakistan and Libya. The desperate Saudis finally enlisted the help of French commandos led by tough-as-nails Captain Paul Barril, who prepared the final assault and supplied poison gas that knocked out the insurgents. Though most captured gunmen were quickly beheaded, the Saudi royal family responded to this unprecedented challenge by compromising with the rebels supporters among the kingdoms most senior clerics, helping them nurture and export Juhaymans violent brand of Islam around the world.
This dramatic and immensely consequential story was barely covered in the press in the pre-CNN, preAl Jazeera days, as Saudi Arabia imposed an information blackout and kept foreign correspondents away. Yaroslav Trofimov now penetrates this veil of silence, interviewing for the first time scores of direct participants in the siege, including former terrorists, and drawing on hundreds of documents that had been declassified on his request. Written with the pacing, detail, and suspense of a real-life thriller, The Siege of Mecca reveals how Saudi reaction to the uprising in Mecca set free the forces that produced the attacks of 9/11, and the harrowing circumstances that surround us today.
It is a thrilling historical narrative of the events that took place in Mecca over two weeks at the dawn of the Islamic 15th century, offering hitherto undisclosed details that provide an instructive introduction to Muslim fundamentalist terrorism while clearly connecting the dots between then and now. (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Portfolio Magazine - Jen Itzenson
The occasional sensationalism doesn't detract from his argument that Osama bin Laden and his operatives are the ideological descendants of the Mecca radicals, but with far greater resources.
Trofimov makes a good case that this little-known event, in which tens of thousands were held hostage and a thousand died, led to the birth of al-Qaeda. He combines political analysis and breathless narrative (''trigger fingers caressing the cold metal'') to describe the deadliest terrorist attack prior to 9/11. B+
It has taken nearly 30 years to comprehend these events in their proper context, and Trofimov does excellent work in narrating them in that light.
Casual readers will be well served by this introduction to Muslim fundamentalist terrorism.
Tom Bissell, author of God Lives in St. Petersburg and The Father of All Things
As Yaroslav Trofimov amply and skillfully demonstrates, the most radioactive particle in the world today is not North Korea, Iran, or, for that matter, the United States. It is, rather, the terrifying bundle of contradictions otherwise known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The most formative event in the modern history of this secretive and at times morally disgusting petrocracy is vivisected by Trofimov to unsettling effect, and he reminds us of why anything that has happened or will happen there is a matter of great concern to the world.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone
Yaroslav Trofimov has written a spellbinding thriller. Packed with vivid, previously undisclosed details, it illuminates a little-known hostage crisis in the closed-off heart of the Muslim world that helped give rise to Al Qaeda. Once I started reading, I couldn't put the book down
A Short History of Saudi Arabia The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia covers an area about the third of the size of
the USA, and occupies most of the Arabian peninsula (map),
most of which is desert.
Its population is about 27 million, of which 5 million are foreigners
(technicians, merchants, diplomats and soldiers). 90% of citizens are
Arabs and all are Muslims (citizenship is only open to Muslims). Saudi
Arabia is home to the two holiest cities of Islam,
Mecca and Medina - the former being where most of the Koran was revealed
to Muhammad, the latter being his administrative capital and the capital of the
The region has been home to various groups of Semitic* people
through most of recorded history. Before Islam, the different tribes of
Arabia were pagans of various stripes with many converting to Christianity
and Judaism; until about 630 AD, when followers of Muhammad gained sufficient strength to
Saudi Arabia sits on about 25% of the world's known oil reserves, and because
the oil is close...
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