Mecca 1979: The mosque siege that changed the course of Saudi history

Source: BBC

It’s four decades since a charismatic preacher and his followers staged an armed takeover of the Grand Mosque of Mecca and the holiest place in Islam became a killing field. The resulting siege, writes the BBC’s Eli Melki, shook the Muslim world to its foundations and changed the course of Saudi history.

In the early hours of 20 November 1979, some 50,000 faithful from all over the world gathered for dawn prayers in the huge courtyard surrounding the sacred Kaaba in Mecca, Islam’s holiest place. Among them mingled 200 men led by a charismatic 40-year-old preacher called Juhayman al-Utaybi.

As, the imam finished leading prayers, Juhayman and his followers pushed him aside and seized the microphone.

They had placed closed coffins in the centre of the yard, a traditional act of seeking blessings for the recently deceased. But when the coffins were opened, they revealed handguns and rifles, which were quickly distributed among the men.

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