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November 20, 1979: The Assault On The Grand Mosque Of Mecca

Juhayman al-Utayby
Juhayman al-Utayby – ©Wikipedia

This bloody story is often unheard of by younger generations. On November 20, 1979, Muharram 1st 1400, around 200 to 300 armed individuals took over Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque of Mecca. [1] They were commanded by a man called Juhayman ibn Sayf al-Utayby, a Saudi military who blamed the regime for its ties with the Americans and corruption.

Most surprisingly, Juhayman ibn Muhammad ibn Sayf al-Utayby insited his brother-in-law Muhammad ibn Abdallah al-Qahtany, also participating in the attack, be recognized as being the Mahdi, the savior of the end of time.

Bloodshed would have be a sacrilege, it was out of the question. The Kingdom’s authorities did not take any action until the Ulama issued a fatwa [1] to lift the prohibition. Once they did, the Saudi armed froces began the assault, which ended up in a failure. More than a hundred men of the Saudi Arabian National Guard died.

Al-Utayby’s men were either killed during the assault or taken into custody – ©Wikipedia

So King Khaled of Arabia turned to France and its famous GIGN (National Gendarmerie Intervention Group). The super quick conversion of controversial Paul Barril – and some of his men – remained a historic moment. So the French led the Saudi troups and managed to put an end to Al-Utayby’s operation on December 5, 1979. He was beheaded a month later along with around sixty of his men.

On Thursday November 20, 2014, The New York Times’ Twitter account posted about this event which took place 35 years ago.

[Translated from French ’20 novembre 1979 : la Grande Mosquée de La Mecque prise d’assaut’ [5] by Mouna M. [6]]