1979 Seizure Of The Grand Mosque In Mecca

Adam Fitzgerald
3 min readSep 1, 2019

November 20, 1979….Juhayman al-Otaybi, former Saudi Army and Salafist preacher, led a band of Salafist rebels which approximately numbered 500 and stormed the Grand Mosque prayer area which were about to be led in the Fajr Salat (dawn prayer for Sunni Muslims). They immediately locked the gates and killed two saudi police men who were only armed with clubs at the time, as the militants armed with AK-47 under their robes stormed the compound. Immediately they controlled the large prayer area and commanded the microphone which can be heard throughout the 7 acre Grand Mosque compound.

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. During this time, the Grand Mosque was also undergoing renovations which were managed by the Saudi BinLaden Group. Soon after the rebel seizure, about 100 security officers of the Ministry of Interior attempted to retake the mosque, but were turned back with heavy casualties.

The compound heard the demands of Juhayman al-Otaybi, which he first declared that his brother-in-law Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani to be the Mahdi, or redeemer, who arrives on earth several years before Judgement Day. Then came the reasoning for the prospect of a new Saudi monarchy, that the House of Saud was becoming too “Westernized” allowing themselves to be corrupted by American influences. It was also said this was what gave Osama Bin Laden momentum to challenge the United States later on in the years to come. Soon after the rebel seizure, about 100 security officers of the Ministry of Interior attempted to retake the mosque, but were turned back with heavy casualties.

The Saudi Arabian Army and National Guard then became the officials in charge. Weeks past, and the militants began to feel the pressure of being outnumbered and slowly starved. 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 cut-off of oil exports to the United States and the expulsion of all foreign civilian and military experts from the Arabian Peninsula.

December 4th, as the militants became less and less they were overtaken by the Saudi National Guard and Army. The gates were finally broken open and the ragged rebels were killed and some overtaken by sheer force.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. Iranian Grand Ayatollah religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini exclaimed that the militants were actually trying to overthrow the Saudi monarchy to save the holy city from Western Imperialism.

The remaining captives of the militants were tried and condemned to be executed by the Saudi Judaical for their role in killing Saudi guards and Army and for sedition. The leader of the militant faction, Juhayman al-Otaybi, was executed in public on January 9th 1980 along with 67 of the remaining militants, none were shown any mercy at the behest of Saudi Monarch King Khaled. Saudi King Khaled, however, did not react to the upheaval by cracking down on religious puritans in general, but by giving the ulama and religious conservatives more power over the next decade.




Adam Fitzgerald

Geo-political scientist/researcher into the events of September 11th 2001.