The Siege of Mecca


Reviews & Praise

“Yaroslav Trofimov has written a spellbinding thriller. Packed with vivid, previously undisclosed details, it illuminates a little-known hostage crisis in the closed-off heart of the Muslim world that helped give rise to Al Qaeda. Once I started reading, I couldn't put the book down.”
—Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone

“As Yaroslav Trofimov amply and skillfully demonstrates, the most radioactive particle in the world today is not North Korea, Iran, or, for that matter, the United States. It is, rather, the terrifying bundle of contradictions otherwise known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The most formative event in the modern history of this secretive and at times morally disgusting petrocracy is vivisected by Trofimov to unsettling effect, and he reminds us of why anything that has happened or will happen there is a matter of great concern to the world.”
—Tom Bissell, author of God Lives in St. Petersburg and The Father of All Things

"As the Iranian Revolution of 1979 unfolded next door, the Saudis were alarmed and embarassed by an armed takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979. The counter-siege of Islam's holiest shrine dragged on into bloody absurdity, revealing corruption and incompetence in the highest levels of the Saudi government. Trofimov illuminates a highly-supressed, almost-forgotten chapter in radical Muslim terror."

"...Trofimov has crafted a compelling historical narrative, blending messianic theology with righteous violence, and the Saudi state's sclerotic corruption with the complicity of the official religious institutions."
—Publisher's Weekly

"Had there been no 11/20/79, there might never have been a 9/11/01: 20-20 hindsight meets solid journalistic and storytelling skills. . .It has taken nearly 30 years to comprehend these events in their proper context, and Trofimov does excellent work in narrating them in that light."
—Kirkus Reviews

"Trofimov's study of the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Islamic militants begins with all the menace of a political thriller. The author then steps back to examine how this act of global jihad, underreported in the West, inspired today's generation of terrorists. Trofimov, a Wall Street Journal reporter, provides context through a vivid history of the site and the rise of ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabism, and re-creates the battles at the mosque in riveting, if gruesome, detail. The occasional sensationalism doesn't detract from his argument that Osama bin Laden and his operatives are the ideological descendants of the Mecca radicals, but with far greater resources."
—Jen Itzenson, Portfolio Magazine

"An action-packed book that recounts how a small army of fundamentalists seized Islam's holiest site, the Grand Mosque of Mecca, for two weeks in 1979. Trofimov combines political analysis and breathless narrative ("trigger fingers caressing the cold metal") to describe the deadliest terrorist attack prior to 9/11."
—Stewart Allen, Entertainment Weekly

"Not many people can tell you much about the November 1979 takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, by Islamist militants. That's partly because the Saudi authorities, as is their way, kept a tight lid on information during that fateful two-week period when the regime's survival seemed, for the first time, in danger. That is why Yaroslav Trofimov's just-published book The Siege of Mecca is so valuable a document, not only in describing the murky events surrounding the takeover almost 28 years ago, but also as a backgrounder on the depth of Salafist tendencies in Saudi Arabia and the later emergence of Al-Qaeda."
—Michael Young, Reason magazine

—Youssef Ibrahim, The New York Sun

"A fascinating and important book. . .The mosque's seizure humiliated the Saudi regime, which bases its legitimacy on its role as upholder of Islam and keeper of the faith's holy places; the kingdom's leaders at first refused to acknowledge that it had happened and later tried to minimize its importance. Now, in a remarkable feat of reporting, Trofimov, a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, has pierced that veil of secrecy. . .Anyone can read The Siege of Mecca, and everyone should."
—Thomas W. Lippman, The Washington Post Book World

"Saudi Arabia's dirty laundry gets the airing it deserves in The Siege of Mecca, a gripping book sure to stir angry reaction in the desert kingdom. Wall Street Journal, writer Yaroslav Trofimov pulls back the curtain surrounding a closed society to reveal the shocking details of history-making events that the Saudis would very much rather the world forgot. Reading like a thriller, Trofimov's detailed account presents a thoroughly researched chronology of what happened when, at the dawn of the Islamic year 1400, Muslim extremists seized control of Islam's holiest shrine."
—Peter Birnie, Vancouver Sun

"Gripping and revealing. . .The Siege of Mecca is a marvel of investigative journalism. Trofimov's viciously gory account unfolds with a sharp eye for detail and accuracy."
—Ziauddin Sardar, New Statesman (London)

"Trofimov's account of the two-week-long battle to regain control of the Great Mosque makes gripping reading. . .It's a fascinating tale full of new material. This intriguing, well written and well researched book reminds us that there was more to the year 1979 than the advent of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. And that we'll be living with a humiliated and unhappy Muslim world for a long time to come."
—George Rosie, The Sunday Herald (Scotland)

"Trofimov gives a thriller-like account of an event largely hushed up and presents it as a prelude to al-Qaeda's continuing activities."
—Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)

"In his riveting account of the events in Mecca, Trofimov, a foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, artfully unravels how America began its military build-up in the region, and how the Saudi state came to a fatally misjudged compromise with its conservative clerics, effectively clearing the way for Al-Qaeda."
—Robert Collins, The Sunday Times (London)

"Yaroslav Trofimov's The Siege of Mecca, based on a wealth of information amassed from classified documents and face-to-face interviews, offers a gripping, highly informed narrative of this momentous event. Trofimov places the siege in its historical context, and illustrates how the al-Sauds' response would pave the way for a wave of Islamist extremism and terrorism inspired by the conservative Wahabi creed."
—John R. Bradley, The Financial Times (London)

"Trofimov's account of this forgotten outrage reads like a thriller and brilliantly illuminates the contradictions of the Saudi regime, caught between the radical Wahhabism which aided and legitimised its rise, and the need to deal with infidel America because of oil. As Trofimov makes clear, the incident was a dress rehearsal for today's conflicts, igniting anti-American feeling throughout the Islamic world."
—Marc Lambert, Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh)

"The Siege of Mecca makes for compulsory reading. . .It sheds light on a topic rendered even more intriguing by the continued attempts to blot the event out of history by the Saudi authorities. Trofimov's disclosure of fascinating details and his engaging narrative combine to create a tour de force which, once you begin, is incredibly difficult to put down."
—David Barett, The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)

"The Siege of Mecca was a fascinating, portentous event, and Trofimov succeeds in. . .engagingly telling the tale while revealing the fragility of a kingdom containing many subjects who are more sympathetic to militant Wahhabis than to the House of Saud."
—Nathan Thrall, The Jerusalem Post (Israel)

"Brilliantly researched and eye-opening. This is undoubtedly a book of international significance."
—Mark Brown, The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland)

"The Siege of Mecca reminds me a bit of those heroic journalists and academics who managed to shed light on the most inaccessible corners of the old Soviet Union at its most hermetic. Trofimov, who includes Arabic among his half-dozen or so languages, has defied the strictures of one of the world's most secretive regimes in order to bring us this story, tapping a range of impressively obscure written sources as well as tracking down a remarkable assortment of people involved in the incident. The brief afterword that describes his adventures during his reporting is alone worth the price of the book."
—Christian Caryl, The Washington Monthly