‘Juhayman: 40 years on:’ Arab News takes a Deep Dive into Saudi history with a multimedia look at the siege of Makkah’s Grand Mosque

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19/11/19

Picture dated December 1979 in Jeddah of Jihman bin Saif al-Otaiba, or Juhayman ibn-Muhammad ibn-Sayf al-Utaibi aka “Lieutenant Mahdi” (the Messiah), former captain in the Saudi White Guards (National Guard) who commanded the attack 20 November 1979 against Mecca’s Great Mosque. Several hundred (1,300 to 1,500) armed men hostile to the Saudi government barricaded themselves inside Mecca’s Mosque for two weeks, taking pilgrims hostage. In the end, two weeks ago, the rebellion was only subdued by a special detachment of French para-military special forces (GIGN) sent by Paris at Riyadh’s request who used stun grenades and chemical weapons. An official toll put the dead at 153 and 560 wounded. All arrested gunmen were later executed. AFP PHOTO (Photo by – / AFP)
  • Featuring interviews with key players such as Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s English-language newspaper tells the full story of the unthinkable event that cast a shadow over its society for decades
  • As part of its Deep Dive series online, featuring documentary-style multimedia stories, Arab News looks back at this event in a way no Saudi publication has done before

Forty years ago this week, on Nov. 20, 1979, a group of militants did the unthinkable: They seized the Grand Mosque in Makkah, taking people hostage inside in a two-week standoff with Saudi forces.

Until recently, the crisis remained too painful for Saudis to examine fully for almost four decades. Now Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s leading English-language daily, is looking back at the event in a way that no publication in the Kingdom has done before: with a multimedia Deep Dive story online at arabnews.com/juhayman-40-years-on.

“The 1979 attack on Makkah’s  Grand Mosque halted major social development in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, negatively affecting a progressing nation for generations to come,” said Rawan Radwan, the lead reporter on the project, who is based in Jeddah. “At Arab News, we delved deep into the matter to uncover the story of Juhayman, the terrorist who seized the holiest site and shook the Islamic world. It’s a story that for many years struck fear in the hearts of the Saudi people, yet has not been covered in such depth in local or international media — until now.”

Arab News launched its Deep Dive series earlier this year as an engaging new way to showcase its in-depth storytelling on key topics, enlivened by audio, video and animated graphics. Its first story was an in-depth account of the space mission by the first Arab astronaut, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman; the siege of Makkah is another story from the Kingdom’s past that it chose to revisit.

Extensive research was conducted over two months in several cities, including Makkah itself, and involved teams in five of Arab News’ bureaus: Jeddah, Riyadh, Dubai, London and Beirut. The team interviewed key players such as Prince Turki Al-Faisal, then head of the General Intelligence Directorate, and re-created what happened in a series of interactive maps.

This article was first published in Arab News

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