On March 25, 1975, ibn Musaid, a nephew of King Faisal, shot and killed the king. Musaid's brother had been one of those killed by Saudi police in 1965 during the protest against the introduction of television. Prince Khalid, a half-brother to Faisal, was selected as the fourth Saudi king.
Trouble for the Saudi family arose next with the coming of the year 1400 according to the Islamic calendar and supernatural significance attributed to the new century.
A man named Juhayman, whose family was of Bedouin and of 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," and he believed that the Saud family had become corrupted by Western influences. 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. He and his friends saw a number of divine signs and believed that with the new century the prophesied redeemer of Islam, the Mahdi, would appear. The new century according to the Islamic calendar was to begin on 21 November 1979. In the early morning of 20 November, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Juhayman and his co-conspirators, "hundreds" in number, gathered 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 and offered an oath. Some pilgrims joined in.
A message from the Ayatollah Khomeini was broadcast over Iranian radio accusing the US and Israel of being those who were orchestrating the "horrors" in Mecca.
In the first days of the siege, Saudi authority decided that their troops were too slow in defeating the rebels. They believed that their rule was threatened. Reluctant to seek help from the US, 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.
Another threat to the Saudi government appeared with 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. Blood flowed as the Saudi National Guard used armored personnel carriers, machine guns, helicopter gunships and artillery against the uprising. The rioting youths were dispersed and in shock as an older generation of Shiite leaders in the area successfully sued for peace.
The last of the rebels in the basement of the Grand Mosque, including Juhayman, were taken prisoner on December 5. On 9 January 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 the pilgrims who watched the takeover in Mecca took a rebellion leaflet home with him to Egypt, and he described the exciting event with his brother Khaled, a first lieutenant in the Egyptian army, who began an eighteen month "path to martyrdom." On October 6, 1981, men from a group called Islamic Jihad, disguised as soldiers, assassinated Egypt's president, Anwar Sadat, in Cairo as he was viewing a military parade. It was Khaled who fired several bullets into Sadat.
The assassins have been described as wanting to assassinate Sadat because he was turning to the West and trying to Westernize Egypt, thereby destroying the Egyptian Muslim society's Islamic foundations. Sadat having made peace with Israel, according to this theory, was of secondary importance.
In Egypt, hundreds of Islamic militants were rounded up. Among them was a 30-year-old medical doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for possessing an unlicensed pistol. He was from a wealthy family. From an early age, he had been involved with the Muslim Brotherhood, and at the time of his arrest he had been a low-ranking member of Islamic Jihad. He served three years in prison. He was recorded by television cameras shouting angrily in English from behind prison bars, saying ''We are Muslims who believe in our religion. We're trying our best to establish an Islamic state and Islamic society.'' Zawahiri would eventually to be the leader of a group called al-Qaeda, to be well known by late 2001.
Trofimov writes in The Siege of Mecca 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, more than five years after those who had seized the Grand Mosque were executed, 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 US 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 © 2007-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.