1979: Pakistani Special Forces (SSG) cleared the Holy Kaaba of militants
The Grand Mosque seizure occurred during November and December 1979 when extremist insurgents calling for the overthrow of the House of Saud took over Al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. 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.
The seizure of Islam's holiest site, the taking hostage of hundreds of Hajj pilgrims, and the deaths of hundreds of militants, security forces and hostages caught in crossfire in the ensuing battles for control of the site, all shocked the Islamic world. The siege ended two weeks after the takeover began with militants and the mosque was cleared. Following the attack, the Saudi state implemented a stricter enforcement of Islamic code
Pakistanis were the only forces besides Saudis– as non-Muslims cannot enter the city of Mecca. The Pakistanis asked for permission to end the siege by flooding the mosque and then dropping a high-voltage electric cable to electrocute all present. This suggestion was requested by the then Commandant of the Pakistan Special Services Group, Brigadier Tariq Mehmood[]. This proposal was deemed unacceptable by Saudi authorities. They then used tanks to ram the doors of the mosque and Pakistani Commandos[] then resorted to spraying the mosque with non-lethal gases in order to subdue the occupiers, and dropped grenades into the chambers through holes drilled in the mosque courtyard. The Pakistani commandos stormed the mosque, and used the least amount of force possible to avoid damage to the mosque. They killed most of the insurgents, and managed to force the surrender of the survivors.
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, which was stated by another hadith as the day that a Mujaddid would reveal himself.
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."
Al-Otaybi and Qahtani had met while being imprisoned together for sedition, when al-Otaybi claimed to have a vision sent by God telling him that Qahtani was the Mahdi.
Because of donations from wealthy followers, the group was well-armed and trained. Some members, like al-Otaybi, 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 fifty thousand worshipers 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 disciplining unruly pilgrims. The number of insurgents has been given as "at least 500" or "four to five hundred", and included several women and children who had joined al-Otaybi's movement.
The insurgents released most of the hostages and locked the remainder in the sanctuary. 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 a hundred 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 Saudi Arabian National Guard.
the first order of business was to seek the approval of the ulema, which was led by Abdul Aziz bin Baz. Islam forbids any violence within the Grand Mosque, to the extent that plants cannot be uprooted without explicit religious sanction. Ibn Baaz found himself in a delicate situation, especially as he had previously taught al-Otaybi in Medina. Regardless, the ulema issued a fatwa allowing deadly force to be used in retaking the mosque.
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' defenses. Snipers continued to pick off soldiers who revealed themselves. The insurgents aired their demands from the mosque's loudspeakers throughout the streets of Mecca, calling for the cutoff of oil exports to the United States and the expulsion of all foreign civilian and military experts from the Arabian Peninsula
According to Lawrence Wright in the book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,However, this is contradicted by at least two other accounts, including that of then GIGN commanding officer Christian Prouteau: the three GIGN commandos trained and equipped the Saudi forces and devised their attack plan (which consisted in drilling holes in the floor of the Mosque and firing through the perforations gas canisters wired with explosives), but did not take part in the action and did not set foot in the Mosque. He claims that Pakistani SSG commandos carried out the operation instead.
The Saudi National Guard and the Saudi Army suffered heavy casualties. Tear gas was used to force out the remaining 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
Shortly after news of the takeover was released, the new Islamic revolutionary leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini told radio listeners, "It is not beyond guessing that this is the work of criminal American imperialism and international Zionism." Anger fueled by these rumours spread anti-American demonstrations throughout the Muslim world—in the Philippines, Turkey,Bangladesh, eastern Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.
Al-Qahtani was killed in the recapture of the mosque but Juhayman, and 67 of his fellow rebels survived the assault and were captured.
The king secured afatwa (edict) from the Council of Senior Scholars which found the defendants guilty of seven crimes:
- violating the Masjid al-Haram's (the Grand Mosque's) sanctity;
- violating the sanctity of the month of Muharram;
- killing fellow Muslims;
- disobeying legitimate authorities;
- suspending prayer at Masjid al-Haram;
- erring in identifying the Mahdi;
- exploiting the innocent for criminal acts
2. he Age of Sacred Terror by Daniel Benjamin
4. Kechichian, Joseph A., "The Role of the Ulama in the Politics of an Islamic State: The Case of Saudi Arabia", International Journal of Middle East Studies, 18 (1986)