Largest Saudi flag adds to National Day joy


Noor Sunflower Oil celebrated Saudi National Day under the slogan “The Saudis’ mettle is like that of the Tuwaiq mountain,” inspired by the words of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh last year.

The crown prince had said: “The Saudis’ strength is like that of the Tuwaiq mountain, unbreakable, unless this mountain is leveled and equaled to the ground.”

Noor teamed up with Guinness World Records to create the world’s largest Saudi flag made with food boxes containing Saudi culinary creations prepared by Saudi women.

The brand invited Saudi women to express pride in their country by submitting their food creations to be a part of the National Day celebration.

On its microsite (, the campaign received responses from 40,000 Saudi women, who contributed 89 of their dishes made using Noor oil products. The best of their recipes made it to the Guinness World Records event, which took place on Sept. 24 at the Batterjee Medical College in Jeddah.

The largest Saudi flag was created with the participation of a large number of female students and other women and in the presence of the Guinness World Records representatives.

After the event, the food boxes were distributed among the needy across the city through the Saudi Food Bank.

Khalil Naciri, head of corporate marketing at Noor Sunflower Oil, said: “It was an honor for us to be a part of the 89th Saudi National Day celebrations. Our initiative — Infinite Creations, Infinite Pride — aimed at providing a platform for Saudi women where they can express their love for the country by submitting their food creations.

Noor believes that women’s role is beyond the kitchen; they are not just home organizers; they are creators of infinite possibilities. The new Noor campaign is a tribute to all those extraordinary women from all walks of life.”

Amir Qadri, head of Saudi marketing team at Noor Sunflower Oil, said: “Noor is a proud local Saudi brand that has been part of the Saudi culinary journey for the last three decades. Noor changed the color of its bottles from blue to green to celebrate the National Day in the past. This year, we decided to raise the bar when Saudi women came together under the platform of Noor to add another prestigious world record title to the existing titles Saudi Arabia has. It’s the infinite enthusiasm of Saudi women that made the whole event possible.”

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Over 3.7 million enjoy Saudi National Day Season


These events ranged from festivals, concerts, and fireworks, to youth forums, accompanied by celebrations on the streets as well as in public places and squares
RIYADH: The five-day Saudi National Day celebrations, which concluded on Monday evening, attracted more than 3.7 million people to various events organized across the Kingdom.
The chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, Turki Al-Sheikh, said that a workforce of 8,230 “happiness makers,” 91 percent of whom were Saudis, contributed to the success of the National Day Season. In the total workforce, some 23 percent were women. More than 6,800 season jobs were created. Al-Sheikh said visitors enjoyed more than 700,000 spectacular firework salvos. According to official statistics, more than 4,200 buses transported visitors to and from event locations.
This year more than 40 events took place between Sept. 19 and 23. These events ranged from festivals, concerts, and fireworks, to youth forums, accompanied by celebrations on the streets as well as in public places and squares.

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Indonesians celebrate Saudi National Day, hope for stronger bilateral ties

Time: September 24, 2019  

Indonesian actor Dude Herlino and his actress wife Alyssa Soebandono posed with staff from Saudia airlines for a photo during a reception to celebrate Saudi National Day in Jakarta. (AN photo by Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata)
  • Saudi Arabia is still one of the major sources of foreign tourists to Indonesia

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Saifuddin extended on Monday the best wishes to Saudi Arabia on the occasion of the Kingdom’s National Day and expressed hope for stronger ties between the two countries.

“On behalf of the Indonesian government, we rejoiced in this celebration and prayed that the Kingdom and the people of Saudi Arabia are always blessed and under God’s protection,” Saifuddin told journalists during a reception at a hotel in Jakarta held by the Saudi Embassy.

The minister, who was the guest of honor at the reception, said the two countries have ties that Islamic scholars cemented centuries ago and that they remain the same today.

Saudi Arabia is still one of the major sources of foreign tourists to Indonesia, and the biggest from the Middle East, with 165,852 Saudis visiting Indonesia in 2018.

“We hope to see more of our brothers and sisters from Saudi Arabia visiting Indonesia in the coming years,” Saifuddin said.

Trade between the two countries increased from $4.5 billion (SR16.8 billion) in 2017 to $6.13 billion in 2018. Saudi Arabia is one of Indonesia’s most important partners in the investment sector, with investment value increasing from $3.5 million in 2017 to $5.36 million last year.

“The government of Indonesia wishes to cooperate more to ensure intensification of Saudi direct investments in the country,” Saifuddin said.

Saudi Ambassador Esam Abid Althagafi said that the Kingdom continues development in all sectors in line with the 2030 Vision reform plans, which has shown significant results among developing countries.

Indonesian actor Dude Herlino and his actress wife Alyssa Soebandono were also among the guests attending the reception. Herlino was one of the guests invited by the Saudi Ministry of Media to perform Hajj this year.

He told Arab News that it was a memorable experience and he was grateful for the privilege.

“I was extended the best service, including the opportunity for a helicopter ride above Makkah,” Herlino said.

“We would like to congratulate the Kingdom for its national day celebration and I hope that Indonesia and Saudi Arabia’s bilateral relations will remain strong,” he added.

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Saudi National Day Celebrated in New Delhi

Time: September 24, 2019  

  • People from all walks of life and leaders from different political parties attended the ceremony

NEW DELHI: The Saudi Embassy in New Delhi celebrated the Kingdom’s National Day on Monday with pomp and fanfare. The ceremony was held in the new embassy building, which was inaugurated in February this year during the visit of the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

“The building symbolizes not only Saudi architecture but also the deepening ties between Saudi Arabia and India,” said Saud Bin Mohammed Al-Sati, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to India.

People from all walks of life and leaders from different political parties attended the ceremony. Among the important guests at the ceremony were Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Advisor, and former foreign minister Salman Khusheed of the opposition Congress party.

A Saudi business delegation visiting India was also present at the event, along with its Indian counterparts.

The main guest at the event was India’s junior minister for power Raj Kumar Singh.

In his inaugural speech the Saudi ambassador narrated the Kingdom’s journey from 1932 to date and how it is modernizing all walks of life in line with Vision 2030.

Calling the National Day as an important landmark in the history of modern Saudi Arabia, Sati said: “Today Saudi Arabia is playing a leading role at both global and regional levels, as a global economic power and as an anchor of peace in the region.”

He said: “We are transforming our economy, governance and society. Economic and social reforms are beginning to bear fruits and the Kingdom is emerging as one of the attractive economic destinations in the world. Our efforts to diversify the economy are also yielding results.”

“Saudi women are now more empowered and are playing many roles in public and private sectors,” said the Saudi ambassador.

He said that the country will continue “to march ahead in the area of economic development and modernization and continue to play a leading role in regional and global politics.”

He underlined the deepening ties with India and called the visit of Mohammed bin Salman to India early this year “a historic milestone.”

He emphasized that Saudi’s current economic investment of $34 billion will continue to grow in time to come.”

Finally, he talked about the strong cultural ties between New Delhi and Riyadh.

Minister Singh also dwelt on the relationship between the two nations and said that the ties between the countries are “historical and derive their sustenance from people to people contact”. He called the relationship “vibrant and forward looking” and termed the visit of crown prince in February this year as “landmark that further cemented the ties between India and Saudi Arabia”.

Singh condemned the drone attacks on Saudi’s oil installation and facilities and said: “India is opposed to terrorism in all its forms and manifestation.”

He appreciated the kingdom’s promise to make a $100 million investment in India.

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Foreign ambassadors congratulate Saudi leadership, people on National Day


JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has restored more than 75 percent of the production lost after attacks on two oil processing plants and will return to full capacity next week.

The Khurais facility is now producing more than 1.3 million barrels per day and the Abqaiq plant about 3 million, industry sources said. 

Both Aramco plants were hit in drone and missile attacks on Sept. 14 that caused fires and significant damage, halving the country’s oil output. The Kingdom’s ability to quickly restore production demonstrated an important degree of resilience to potentially damaging shocks, the ratings agency Moody’s said.

King Salman said on Monday that Saudi Arabia was able to deal with the effects of what he described as “this cowardly sabotage, that targeted the Kingdom and the stability of global energy supplies.”

He spoke after talks in Jeddah with King Hamad of Bahrain, who denounced the “serious escalation targeting the security and stability of the region.”

Meanwhile, the diplomatic focus on the fallout from the missile strikes moved to New York, where world leaders are gathering for the UN General Assembly. Saudi Arabia and the US have blamed Iran for the attacks, and they were joined on Monday by Britain.

“The UK is attributing responsibility with a very high degree of probability to Iran for the Aramco attacks. We think it very likely indeed that Iran was responsible,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on his way to the US.

“We will be working with our American friends and our European friends to construct a response that tries to deescalate tensions in the Gulf region,” he said.

However, the UK risks opening a diplomatic rift with other European countries trying to salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions. Their efforts have so far failed, with the US withdrawing from the deal and reimposing sanctions.

French President Emmanuel Macron has refused to blame Iran for the Aramco attacks. “One must be very careful in attributing responsibility,” he said on his way to New York.

Macron, Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks on Monday to coordinate their Iran strategy before meetings with US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Gulf states, the US, the Europeans and others needed to engage in “collective diplomacy” to defuse tensions, a senior GCC official said.

“The conversation should no longer be about the JCPOA, but Iran’s missile program and its regional misbehavior, which are as important if not more important — they have the potential to hold the region to ransom,” he said

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Air shows and parades as Saudis make an early start to National Day celebrations


Public will be treated to festivals, concerts and firework displays
RIYADH: There’s still a day to go, but the celebrations are already in full swing.

Formations from the Royal Saudi Air Force and the Saudi Hawks aerobatics team took to the skies above Jeddah on Saturday in preparation for National Day on Monday.

Fighter jets bearing the Saudi flag flew in formation past an audience at the North Corniche of the Jeddah waterfront, with their F15s, F15C, Tornado, Typhoon and MRTT refueling aircraft.

Monday’s celebrations will feature more than 40 entertainment, cultural and sporting events and activities across the country, including festivals, concerts and firework displays.

Major entertainment shows are being staged in Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh, including a special creation from the famous Balich Worldwide Shows. “Tariq Al-Himma” takes the audience on a journey through Saudi Arabia’s past, present and future.

The hour-long performance at the Green Halls in Riyadh will be from September 21 to 23, starting at 9:30 p.m. each night. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Al-Hamra Corniche in Jeddah is the location for “Star Island” on Sept. 23. Fireworks will fill the sky with a dazzling display accompanied by lighting and laser beams.

Riyadh has been covered in green for National Day celebrations. Major streets are hosting festivities including children’s workshops, restaurants and food stalls. The entrance to the event has been designed to resemble the Masmak Palace gate.

The world’s most popular circus show, Cirque du Soleil, presents a specially created hour-long show for Saudi National Day at the Dhahran Expo in Dammam. Featuring 40 artists performing a variety of acrobatic routines, the show begins at 9 p.m. each night until September 23.

In Arar and Najran, there are folk bands and musical theater performances, as well as handicrafts and products made by Saudi families. Saudi female artists exhibited their paintings of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in West Arar.

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Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince congratulate King Salman ahead of Saudi National Day


Trump said that the “US-Saudi partnership is more vital than ever, particularly as we confront regional security challenges”
King Salman received telegrams of congratulations from Bahrain, Kuwait , and Oman
RIYADH: US President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and other leaders congratulated King Salman on Sunday ahead of Saudi National Day.
In a message to King Salman conveyed by US Ambassador John Abizaid, Trump said that the “US-Saudi partnership is more vital than ever, particularly as we confront regional security challenges and work hand-in-hand to achieve shared economic and political objectives.”
He added that “the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is strong and multifaceted.”
Sheikh Mohammed congratulated King Salman and Saudi Arabia ahead of Saudi National Day and tweeted “Your day is our day, your joy is our joy, and your achievements are a source of pride for us.”
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and Oman’s Sultan Qaboos also sent telegrams of congratulation.

The British Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa Andrew Murrison also congratulated the Kingdom, speaking in a video message recorded during his visit to Ad Diriyah.

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Saudi women celebrate new freedoms on Saudi National Day


As the Kingdom’s ‘dark days’ recede into the past, Saudi women look to the future with optimism
Vision 2030 reforms and new laws empower and protect women, ushering in a new chapter in Saudi Arabia’s history
RIYADH: Life for many young women in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s was an enjoyable mix of study, watching movies and looking forward to a normal, peaceful future in a growing society.

But as the decade drew to a close, an attempted terrorist overthrow and attack on the Holy Mosque in Makkah changed the lives of women and Saudi society as a whole.

Manal Aqeel, who later became an arts and crafts teacher in a government school, recalled: “We lived in peace, our children lived in peace. We knew our religion, we prayed, fasted, preformed Hajj and were kind to one another. I was in middle school when the attack happened on our Holy Kaaba and the aftermath was disastrous.

“Before the attack we would go out and live our daily lives normally. Our attire would consist of lightweight silk abayas wrapped around our waists to show off our colored skirts underneath.”

However, the seizure of the Holy Mosque by Juhayman Al-Otaibi and his militant followers in November 1979 sparked paranoia and fear among the Saudi population, and in the aftermath of the uprising people found themselves facing a rising tide of ultra-conservative restrictions in their daily lives.

“Our family gatherings before the attack consisted of all the family having dinner and enjoying our time like everyone else. But the incident changed our lives. An air of tension lingered in the air as there was surveillance. People started saying, this is halal, this is haram,” Aqeel said.

Within two years, her lightweight abaya was replaced by a full-length black garment that covered her head.

“I don’t know what it was that made women resort to this? Influence? Fear? But one thing for sure was even niqabs (clothing covering the face with slits for the eyes) weren’t acceptable.”

After the events of 1979, conservatism intensified in Saudi Arabia as people adapted to a life filled with restraint and fear.

“The days before Al-Otaibi were the best. We lived in security and safety, and enjoyed our lives without complications. We didn’t even lock our doors. It was a simple life,” Aqeel remembers.

The 1970s opened new horizons for women in Saudi Arabia, allowing them to follow traditional roles or choose different career paths.
Women were TV anchors, radio presenters, actresses, teachers and more. With the oil boom, the country was flourishing. Before the terror attack, segregation was done out politeness and choice, not by force.

However, after 1979, Saudis adopted a more conservative approach to female clothing, with heavy, black abayas considered the only acceptable form of attire.

“My sister, beware of men wolves; cover yourself and you will not be harassed” was a familiar saying in the 1990s, leaving young women in fear of normal life.

Religious police encouraged the notion that women should be “hidden,” and neither heard nor seen in case their presence evoked deep desires which men could not control.

Saudi men also were left in a state of confusion, forced to look down on women as lesser beings, and with the right to control every aspect of their lives.

Fayga Redwan, a former school principal, recalls how her extended family stopped gathering on the beachfronts of Jeddah to relax with their children around, for fear of being confronted by the religious police.

“We all lived together in our big family home, my brothers and their wives and children. We would pack separate lunches as we had to segregate our picnics. Women would sit together, while our husbands and brothers sat nearby. We weren’t afraid, but there was still a sense of uncertainty,” she said.

“People’s views changed, they were skeptical at all times. They were dark days, indeed.”

Mother-of-three Haya Saeed said that the 1990s were the toughest time for women. “By then the mutawa, or religious police, had greater influence and power. I remember how frightening it was just going to a shopping mall was because they would stop us and harass us,” she said.

“We couldn’t even go to a restaurant without a male guardian, and the religious police would go from table to table to make sure that there was no indecent mingling and that the male was either father or brother.”

However, over time, the restricted freedoms young women faced after the 1979 attack began to ease. Women were given more rights to hold higher managerial positions, education was a tool, and society began to realize that their role is vital to ensure progress.

The “dark days” began to fade, ushering in a new chapter in the nation’s history.

In 2005, the late King Abdullah launched the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP) for both men and women.

Sara Murad, host of MBC’s “Good Morning Ya Arab,” represents a new wave of Saudi women.
The initiative was welcomed by many Saudi families, who encouraged their young daughters, sisters and wives to apply — a blow to the extremists who opposed the program.

In 2010, King Abdullah appointed women to the Shoura Council, a groundbreaking move that highlighted the importance of having women in high positions.

Then, on Sept. 26, 2017, King Salman ordered that women be allowed to drive cars, another major blow to the ultra-conservatives.

In light of Vision 2030, a strict anti-harassment law was introduced in June 2018 to protect women and allow them to enjoy their newly won freedoms.

Times have changed, indeed.

Under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Kingdom is regaining its former tolerance and moving ahead with lightning speed.

On Aug. 1, 2019 a decree signed by King Salman declared that Saudi women no longer require permission from a “male guardian” to travel or obtain a passport.

Young Saudi women joined social clubs throughout the Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s, with some clubs still in operation today.
“Life has changed so much now. This change is amazing and the new generation has more confidence,” said Latifa Al-Bazeay, a travel agent.

“There was a loss of nationalism after 1979, people wouldn’t even celebrate National Saudi Day. Now we see the difference,” she said.

“Saudis have always loved their country, but now their loyalty shines through. It is our duty to celebrate this day for its greatness,” she said.

The militant extremism of 1979 left an open wound that has only healed with the reign of King Salman and the crown prince.

“We will return to what we were,” the crown prince said — famous words that have been put into action, whether by eradicating extremism, fighting terrorism or empowering women.

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Reconnecting with the past, reimagining the future


This Saudi National Day, Arab News celebrates the future of Saudi Arabia by reviving its past. In particular, we go back to 1979 — a year in which cataclysmic events took place that changed the Kingdom, as well as the whole region.

Why 1979? Because as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said during his interview with Norah O’Donnell on CBS last year: “We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries. Women were driving cars. There were movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979.”

The famous words of the crown prince were: “This is not the real Saudi Arabia. I would ask your viewers to use their smartphones to find out. And they can Google Saudi Arabia in the 1970s and 1960s, and they will see the real Saudi Arabia easily in the pictures.”

A year before the interview, in October 2017, the crown prince addressed the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, and said: “We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam.”

So what happened in 1979? Two events in particular: The Iranian revolution that brought Khomeini to power, and led to the terrorist acts of Juhayman Al-Otaibi in Saudi Arabia.

If music existed in the days of the Prophet, and if men and women sat and worked together, then what right have these extremists to forbid what God has allowed?

Faisal J. Abbas

Narrow-minded parochial winds swept the region as soon as Khomeini stepped off the plane from Paris in Iran. That led in turn to the whipping up of negative passions and actions by an equally dangerous obscurantist, Juhayman. He, along with his deluded followers, violated the sanctity of the Holy Mosque in Makkah by holding it hostage and spilling blood in the most hallowed place in Islam, our religion’s holy of holies, its sanctum sanctorum.

The events of 1979 cast a long shadow on what had been a peaceful Saudi society. They unleashed forces of darkness that plunged the whole region into unrest and uncertainty. It will be worth reading the article in our special National Day edition by our Iran affairs expert and head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah), Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami. He explains in scholarly detail how the Iranian revolution had a negative impact on the entire Gulf. As he points out: “Iran’s relations with its Arab neighbors … in the 1960s and 1970s … were not as amicable as some suggest, (but) they were certainly not as bleak as they have been since 1979.”

We highlight the importance of Makkah and the savage acts of Juhayman and his men with accounts of eyewitnesses. We will also revisit this event on Nov. 20 this year — the 40th anniversary of the siege — and we promise our readers there will be a special Arab News documentary on every single aspect of those events.

Of course, the effects of 1979 manifested themselves in a wide variety of ways. They led to the previously unchecked power of the infamous religious police. As one of our articles points out, members of the group went about causing chaos in the name of religion. They banned cinemas, destroyed musical instruments, and raided hotels and restaurants, asking couples who were enjoying a meal together in public, or just having a coffee, for proof that they were indeed married. These so-called “promoters of virtue” intruded into the private lives of ordinary citizens, even engaging in car chases that resulted in accidents and loss of life.

This monopoly and high-handedness of the religious police was checked by the announcement of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 program. The removal of the religious police from Saudi streets was, and is, one of the less hyped but most significant reforms of the current leadership. As we detail in one of the articles, the curbing of the religious police’s powers had a domino effect that allowed women to drive, work, travel freely, go to movies, enjoy music — and contribute positively and overall to the growth and progress of our country.

The reforms were criticized by some extremists who said what was happening in Saudi Arabia was a departure from religion — which is utter nonsense. If music existed in the days of the Prophet, and if men and women sat and worked together, then what right have these extremists to forbid what God has allowed? As one of the articles explains, until the end of 1979, Saudi TV used to broadcast songs and concerts by Saudi folk bands and artists, including female singers such as Toha, Etab and Ibtisam Lutfi, to say nothing of concert performances by Um Kalthoum, Fayza Ahmad, Samira Tawfik, Najat Al-Saghira and Farid Al-Atrach.

All this, and many more interesting and highly researched articles in this special edition, highlight how Saudi Arabia is reconnecting with its moderate past and moving into a future that has links to the past. While the missiles and drones from the land of Khomeini and the ayatollahs continue to spread darkness, Saudi Arabia is spreading light for a bright future for its people.

We hope you will enjoy our labor of love as much we have in executing this special project. A very happy National Day to all.

• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor-in-chief of Arab News

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view


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‘The air was heavy with fear’: Memories of Makkah’s Grand Mosque siege resurface on Saudi National Day


Militant mastermind Juhayman Al-Otaibi’s terror strike on Nov. 20, 1979 left hundreds dead
Storming of the mosque ushered in Kingdom’s ‘darkest days’
JEDDAH: For decades, the infamous name Juhayman Al-Otaibi had been buried in the memories of Gen X Saudis.

On Nov. 20, 1979, a well-organized group of terrorists stormed Makkah’s Grand Mosque, killing and wounding hundreds of worshippers and hostages in what came to be one of Saudi Arabia’s darkest days. Al-Otaibi was the mastermind behind the terrorist attack.

Fast forward four decades, and in his first American TV interview — with CBS’s “60 Minutes” — Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowed to bring back the Kingdom’s pre-1979 moderation.

“We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries,” he said. “Women were driving cars. There were movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979.”

Al-Otaibi committed an atrocity in the name of religion, seizing the Grand Mosque for two weeks in a standoff with Saudi special forces.

Photos taken from fighter jets above the mosque showed the floor surrounding the Kaaba empty of worshippers, an image never witnessed before.

In a video published by the King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives, the late Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Subayil, the imam who performed fajr (early morning) prayers on the day of the siege, recalled what he described as “one of the most significant events” of his life.

He said he arrived at the mosque 30 minutes before prayers but did not sense anything untoward.

“But after concluding fajr prayers … a number of militiamen with weapons stormed the area heading toward the Kaaba,” he added.

“I headed to one of the rooms, where I immediately called Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al-Rashed, the chief of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques at the time. I told him of the situation, and I had him listen to the bullets being fired. I found out a while later that they (the terrorists) were allowing pilgrims to leave the mosque’s grounds.”

Al-Subayil decided to leave after about four hours. He removed his mishlah (a traditional flowing outer cloak worn in the Gulf), went down to the basement, lowered his head and left with a group of Indonesian pilgrims just as two militants stood at the gates that lead outside the basement.

Soon after, the gates were chained shut, and snipers took positions in the high minarets and shot innocent worshippers.

Al-Otaibi’s followers, who had taken positions in the minarets, shot at bystanders and Saudi special forces if they came too close to the mosque’s grounds. An estimated 100,000 worshippers were in the mosque that morning.

The siege shocked Saudi society, which had been living a normal life, and whose country was transforming itself from a desert nation to a sophisticated state.

Born and raised in Makkah, housewife Fajr Al-Mohandis recalled the day she heard the news, and the dreadful atmosphere in the city during “those awful two weeks.”

She told Arab News: “I was a student in middle school, and just like every other day, I went to school just like all the school children did. Everyone went to their jobs, including those who worked in the Grand Mosque.”

She said: “We heard gunshots during the day, and that would’ve been the first sign something was wrong. But we were still oblivious to the fact that a terrorist attack was taking place until our parents came to pick us up.” She added: “Makkah was a very small city at that time … and news spread fast.”

Al-Mohandis recalled how schools were shut for the next two weeks. “The air was heavy with fear, no one knew what was happening and we were shocked to the core,” she said.

“This was the holy city. This was the Grand Mosque. How was this even possible? As I was young it was too much to process, but residents of the city who grew up here took the responsibility of keeping it safe, assuring young ones like me that it’ll be OK and Saudi special forces will free the mosque from the blasphemous group.”

A former member of the National Guard, Al-Otaibi was a member of the Salafist group Jama’a Al-Salafiya Al-Muhtasibah.

He was angered by Western influence in Saudi society, and had been recruiting followers from various nationalities for years under the guise of piety.

It was later discovered that his followers smuggled ammunition by hiding it in barrels disguised as construction equipment, and in the mosque’s basement and minarets, taking advantage of its expansion.

Saudi forces stormed the mosque, and the ensuing battle killed most of the terrorists, including Al-Qahtani. Sixty-seven of them were captured, including Al-Otaibi.

The siege ended on Dec. 4, 1979. On Jan. 9, 1980, well-known news presenter Hussain Najjar announced Al-Otaibi’s execution.

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