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The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam's Holiest Shrine and the Birth of al-Qaeda

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,763 ratings  ·  223 reviews
On November 20, 1979, worldwide attention was focused on Tehran, where the Iranian hostage crisis was entering its third week. The same morning—the first of a new Muslim century—hundreds of gunmen stunned the world by seizing Islam’s holiest shrine, the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Armed with rifles that they had smuggled inside coffins, these men came from more than a dozen cou ...more
Hardcover, 301 pages
Published September 18th 2007 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2007)
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4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,763 ratings  ·  223 reviews

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Jon(athan) Nakapalau
An essential link in understanding what Al Qaeda is trying to achieve: important and thoughtful.
Apratim Mukherjee
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is very hard to rate a book which turns out to be the only reliable source about the siege of Mecca in 1979.This topic is hardly discussed in or for that matter even remembered by today's world.Saudi Arabia did a great job by erasing this incident out of the public memory.This meant that the author had to take a lot of pain in order to complete his work.The book also criticises the house of Saud in particular and Saudi establishment in general due to their failure on various fronts and making ...more
Mohamed Montasser
This book was shocking for me, not because of the sad events and stories it tells, but because of the fact that almost no one I know (including myself) knew about what happened in the holiest place on earth in the late 70's of the 20th century, which showed that history can be forgotten, or made forgotten as I suspect is the case with this incident.

It also explained to me the reason behind the heightened security measures I see in Al-Masjid Al-Haram, a place so holy, that even scaring the pigeon
11811 (Eleven)
Oct 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Outstanding. I've done in depth studies of the Iran Hostage Shebang back in '79 but I was never fully aware of the fact that the entire region was on the verge of apocalypse during the same days (nothing new under the sun, right?)

Not just the fact that the most intensely regarded holy place in the world was a deadly warzone for roughly a week with a virtual media blackout but other little things - like the fact that our embassy in Paksistan was burned to the ground, causing American and Pakistan
Michael Connolly
Feb 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: islam, 1st-hundred
This is a book about how in 1979 a group of Islamic fundamentalists seized the Grand Mosque of Mecca in order to protest the liberalizing trends in Saudi Arabia. The author, Yaroslav Trofimov, was a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

Saudi Liberalizing Trends:
* the outlawing of slavery in 1962;
* tolerance of Shias in the eastern part of the Arabian peninsula;
* the importation of foreign infidels to work in the oil industry;
* alcohol;
* cigarettes;
* television and cinemas showing We
Fatima Afridi
Sep 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Riveting, easy to read and shocking! Only because I am used to clean and censored historical and current accounts of Saudi Arabia as a Pakistani. It was only after my own readings that I learnt about the hypocritical and bigoted nature of such accounts, mostly by uninformed people blinded by this notion of Saudi hold and authority on Islam.

Also America is no less of a hypocrite when it comes to it's turning a blind eye to Saudi's outright violation of human rights. This book gave me an insight
Chris Van Dyke
Jan 23, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: political, abandoned
One of the episodes from "The Looming Tower" that struck me the most was the 1979 capture of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. In the midst of the hajj, when the Mosque was filled with worshipers from around the globe, a group of terrorists took the entire assembly hostage. The resulting siege lasted weeks and ended with a blood-bath of Saudi troops, hostages, and terrorists. Before I was even done with the "The Looming Tower" I started looking for a book about the incident.

There are a few reasons I de
Amar Pai
Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was a really interesting book. A lot of it was news to me. I learned a lot about Saudi Arabia, and how it got to be the crazy place it is today. It always baffled me that Iran got counted in the "Axis of Evil" but Saudi Arabia didn't. I actually agree that the totalitarian govts of Iran, North Korea and Syria are "evil" (to the extent that word means anything, which isn't much) but how is Saudi Arabia not also evil?

The author definitely uses polemical language at times, and I was irritated
Justin Tapp
Oct 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam's Holiest Shrine

I recently reviewed several books on the history and development of Islam and Middle Eastern history, modern critiques of Islam and views to reform, and books about human rights in Islamic countries written predominantly by women (full list at bottom of this post). I did that to set a foundation for trying to understand the development of ISIS and other radical groups, for which I read several other books on modern militant Islam (li
Saoud Alfares
Jun 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
The book is a nice read and factual, but it oozes of hatred and disdain of the culture which undermines the author's credibility and professionalism.

In my opinion if the author kept his bias in check it would've elevated this book.

As an Arab this book is very useful because this incident is very sensitive and local sources would be too censored or altered.
Kitty Red-Eye
Holy... something, why hadn't I heard of this? - Ok, the book does give a few reasons as to why this incident isn't widely heard of, but still. Five stars is perhaps one too many, but I couldn't put this book down (even if I should really read for exams now) and after double-checking that yes, this did indeed happen, it's not fiction, I was "delighted" (if that is the word) to read this very interesting and somewhat fantastical story. As a Middle East student and also a student of political extr ...more
Mar 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Surprisingly good, despite the pulpy title and pulpy writing; of all of the books I have ever read about Saudi Arabia, it is the one I would most recommend to someone trying to understand why Saudi Arabia is the way it is now. Very well-researched, catching small but critical points that have eluded many other Western writers, even several good ones. And the subject matter needs no exaggeration - it's absolutely fascinating. My one complaint would be the melodramatic writing style, but that's a ...more
Aug 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very informative and well-researched.
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Set during November of 1979 former National Guard self proclaimed "Mahdi," Juhayman al-Otaybithe and his acolytes seize control of Islam's holiest sites in Mecca. The predecessor of Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaida, and Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi's ISIS/Daesh smuggled assault weapons and ammunition in coffins demanding the immediate overthrow of the Saudi Royal family. The group consisted of Saudi tribesmen, African American converts, and Indian/Pakistani madrassa students of the Wahabi school of thought. H ...more
Mr Shahabi
Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very intriguing books, and from what I've read I believe it was an Inside job. Some things just didn't make sense.

These Infamous events were bieng presented in a very entertaining fast passing way, almost like reading a detective novel, I enjoyed it, highly recommended.
Urooj Janjua
Jul 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm not really writing a formal book review, just my thoughts on the book. This was a very well researched and well put together book. Usually, some of the books of this sort get so mired in facts and figures that they are a very dry and slow read - not so with this book. Not only does the author present the facts, but usually he doesn't give much credence to the "claims" and "boasts" of the people involved, doing his own sleuthing of facts as well. I think his work in Islamic countries, and the ...more
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A book that's a fast paced read of an event that is hard to research up on, given the secrecy Saudi Arabia has towards security matters. The research of this work rests largely on the basis of interviews of key individuals, and the author does a good job in writing this work as if it's a fictional drama. This book is about the 1979 siege on Mecca (Islam's holiest site) by an obscure cult centered on a man claiming to be the Mahdi. While these events took place in 1979, in light of the last decad ...more
Bert van der Vaart
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book describes a relatively underpublicized set of events in 1979--in which both a group of fundamentalist wahabi inspired Muslim took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and virtually the same time a rebellion by majority Shia believers in Eastern Saudi Arabia (esp Qatif) took place. These events, the response by the Saudi government, the false information and provocations by the Ayatollah Khomeini government in Iran, and the gathering response by the mujaheddin in Afghanistan against Soviet-o ...more
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was given to me by a college student originally from Saudi Arabia. As one of the testimonials says, you will have a hard time putting it down once you start reading it. It tells the story of a takeover of the Great Mosque in Mecca during November, 1979. The world's attention was busy with the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran. The episode covered here owed its occurrence to a group of mostly Saudi Sunni fanatics. The security forces of the Saudi government were unable to end the tak ...more
Hisham Al-Hadhrami
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book contents were insightful to understand many fundamentals about our Islamic side of the society nowadays and the contradictions that are existing. If you are a person from the GCC, this book is probably integral to help you understand the environment you are living in and perhaps enables you to foreshadow future events if you pay attention to signs.
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Vince Ciaramella
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
So far this has been the best book I've read this year. The author took a topic that might be too complex to write about and made you feel as if you were watching this unfold live on CNN/FOX or some other cable news network.

If one wants to look for the roots of ISIS or Al Qaeda this is it. There has always been tension between Christianity and Islam dating back to the 7th century but if one is looking for the well spring of the modern jihadi movement this is it.

The Siege of the Grand Mosque and
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I knew nothing of the author prior to my reading of this book. Stumbled upon it by accident and realized that as a Saudi, I need to know more about the topic. Mid-way through the book, one can detect a clear bias in Trofimov's writing style. Besides that, I applaud him for the magnificent research he's done to come up with this piece. The book contains a tremendous amount of mind-blowing information that is essential to understand the complexity of the relationship between the Middle East and th ...more
Tuscany Bernier
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Wow! Phenomenal book! This really details the horrid event of the Masjid Al-Haram being overtaken by a false Mahdi. It is believed that this incident and the incidents surrounding this time (like the overthrowing of the Shah in Iran) had encouraged modern day "Islamic" terrorism and extremism. I was surprised to find out that this incident is not allowed in Saudi textbooks. Great read and it's filled with so many details and important points that I advice this book for anybody who is curious abo ...more
Very exciting.lots of info i didnt knw about and lived through that years without knowing. I remember i was very young at the time And saw a magazine that had pics of the seige members including juhaiman pic. And they all looked evil and scary and its still imprinted in my head and i was only 5 at the time. Its nice to know more details about the story.

Very informative on an era and a topic which was and is still a taboo..i highly recommend it.
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's remarkable that so few know about such an important turning point in history. Actions that occurred in Saudi Arabia before the real start of globalization continue to affect the world in real ways today. It makes me wonder about what other events in other countries happened decades ago will have real affects on us all in the future.
Jan 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I wish I could find that Tumblr and/or Twitter post that has men complaining about how women are way too emotional and women respond with "HAVE YOU SEEN HISTORY?!"
Popoy Mindalano
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An event filled with riddles and secrets that occured in the heart of Mecca the holiest place of Islam almost four decades ago. To hide away their shame and to eschew any similar attempts in the future that threatens the monarchy, the Kingdom buried painstakingly all the facts that sorrounded the incident. No one has the courage to talk about it let alone write a book about it. Finally someone dared to do it when the the most tragic incident in Mecca, where it left thousands dead and where an ac ...more
Sep 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
This was sort of two books in one: one was a blow-by-blow examination of the attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979, and the other was an examination of its impact. By the end, I found myself much more intrigued by the second book. The first was a narrative of repeated failures, and finally a success, for the Saudi government forces. But the second was a more interesting story that I wish could have been slightly more fleshed out; the book hints at it, but I would have appreciated a deeper ...more
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Nothing happens in a vacuum.
Rather, tragedy seems to compound tragedy.
There was the Saudis discovering oil at the beginning of the 20th century leading to the subsequent multinational presence in Saudi Arabia to exploit it. This led to immense wealth for the Saudi kings who often flaunted it in ways that upset devout Muslims, angry about foreigners in the holy land and their corrupt leaders. Which led to the seizure by these muslims in 1979 of the grand mosque at Mecca (the subject of this
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Yaroslav Trofimov is an award-winning author and journalist. He has been a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal since 1999, covering the Middle East, Africa and, recently South and Southeast Asia.
He shared in the Overseas Press Club award for foreign reporting on India,and won the SAJA Daniel Pearl award for the outstanding story on South Asia, among other honors.