The Meccan Rebellion: The Story of Juhayman al-Utaybi Revisited

By the end of the siege, the Grand Mosque was drenched in blood and its rebel leader and his co-conspirators were shortly beheaded for their crime.

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In November 1979, Juhayman al-Utaybi and his fellow rebels took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest sanctuary in Islam, beginning what would become one of the most spectacular events in the modern history of Saudi Arabia. By the end of the siege, the Grand Mosque was drenched in blood and its rebel leader and his co-conspirators were shortly beheaded for their crime. Three decades later, the name of the rebel leader is taboo in Saudi Arabia and his writings are banned; much about this event is still misunderstood. As the initial days of the siege elapsed, many Muslims believed that it was a US-led assault on Islam, and even now, many in the Muslim world believe that the Iranians were responsible for the sacrilege. Today, many important questions remain unanswered. Who were the rebels, and what did they want? Why and how did Juhayman’s group come into existence? What was Juhayman’s ideological legacy and how have his writings influenced contemporary Islamist strains? Based on new information gathered from extensive fieldwork in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, this publication sheds light on the story and legacy of Juhayman al-Utaybi.

About Authors:

Thomas Hegghammer is director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment in Oslo. He was the Zukerman fellow at CISAC in 2012-2013. He has previously held fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and at Harvard, Princeton and New York Universities. Dr. Hegghammer studies militant Islamism with a particular focus on transnational jihadi groups. His book Jihad in Saudi Arabia (Cambridge 2010) won the silver medal of the Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council of Foreign Relations. He also co-authored Al-Qaida in its own Words (Harvard 2008) and The Meccan Rebellion (Amal Press 2011). His articles have been published in the American Political Science Review, International Security, Journal of Peace Research, and other journals. He as written op-eds for the New York Times and al-Sharq al-Awsat, as well as reports for the International Crisis Group and the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. He has also testified in several parliaments (including the US Congress) and served as an expert witness (for both prosecution and defence) in terrorism trials.

Stephane Lacroix is assistant professor of political science at the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) of Sciences Po and the author of Awakening Islam: The Politics of Religious Dissent in Contemporary Saudi Arabia, which addresses the Sahwa and the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in Saudi Arabia.

Binding: Hardback
Author: Thomas Hegghammer, Stephane Lacroix
Publisher: Amal Press
Pages: 78
Year Published: 2011
Length: 8.2 in
Width: 5.5 in
Height: 0.2 in

Weight 8 lbs
Dimensions 8.2 × 5.5 × 0.2 in


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