How The Pakistani And French Special Forces Saved Islam’s Holiest Site, the Makkah


Siege Of Makkah 1979

The Background:

1979 turned out to be a turbulent year for the Islamic world. The year started with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and an Islamic revolution in Iran. The year ended with chaos in Islam’s holiest city the Mekkah, when the radical terrorists took over the Grand Mosque.

On the morning of Nov the 20th, 1979, Juhayman al-Otaybi led a group of about 500 to 1000 armed insurgents to storm into the mosque just as the Imam was preparing to lead 50,000 followers for the morning prayers. The terrorists killed two unarmed policemen before barricading the gates and taking up defensive positions around the mosque and in the minarets.

Al-Otaybi claimed that the Mahdi (Arabic for “the redeemer”) had arrived on earth in the form of Muhammad Abdullah al-Qahtani, who also happened to be his brother-in-law.

First On The Scene:

Within hours, a large force of police from Makkah had assembled and made attempts to retake the mosque. However being outgunned and exposed, were forced to fall back after taking heavy casualties. Soon the surviving police were joined by the Saudi Army and the Saudi National Guard troops, who jointly cordoned off the mosque. By night the same day, the remainder of the city was evacuated.

However, further response was delayed due to a couple of reasons : Two relevent Saudi princes were out of the country and were unable to give instructions. Additionally, violence inside the Grand Mosque is strictly prohibited by the Islamic Law. And any kind of military action (due to its violent nature) to retake the mosque, requires the issuance of a fatwa from the ulema (the Islamic clerics).

Smoke caused by the explosions at the Grand Mosque

With the issuance of the Fatwa by the ulema to conduct the military operation against those capturing the mosque, Saudi forces attempted another assault against the insurgents. Again, the Saudis were forced to retreat with heavy casualties. The insurgent snipers from their positions from the minarets, easily picked up the approaching troops.

French And Pakistani Special Forces Come To The Rescue:

French GIGN operatives with a Saudi Forces Soldier

Meanwhile the Pakistani SSG (Special Services Group), had arrived in the area, and 3 of the finest GIGN (Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale/National Gendarmerie Intervention Group) the French Special Forces, sent by France had also arrived in the area and started preparing for their mission to retake the mosque. The French due to their counter terrorism experience immediately began training their counterparts on how to effectively clear buildings of pesky terrorists. When the men were ready, they all prepared to storm the gates.

Somewhere out there is a group of Pakistani commandos who pronounce “flashbang” with a little French accent. Fear those people.

Since then the Pakistani SSG have evolved into being one of the best Special Forces operatives in the world

But there was a hitch. Only the Saudi and Pakistani troops would be going in there alone, because the Grand Mosque and the Makkah city is forbidden to the non-Muslims. Even when they’re trying to retake the mosque. Their GIGN mentors would have to sit back and wait to see how well they trained these men.

The French solution was to use gas – pumped into the underground tunnels beneath the mosque – to incapacitate the insurgents, so that the assault forces could then make their way in and kill the terrorists. Unfortunately, the twisting, expansive nature of the tunnels failed to keep the gas concentrated enough to work.

Saudi Forces In The Basement Of The Grand Mosque.
The Damage Due To The Fighting Inside The Basement Is Evident.
Saudi Forces Combing The Area After The Gunfight.
A Saudi Soldier Combing The Area After The Gunfight.

The Decisive Offensive :

About 50 Pakistani SSG commandos backed by some 10,000 Saudi National Guardsmen stormed the Grand Mosque after two weeks of being held by the terrorists. On Dec. 4, 1979, the militants were disbursed from the mosque and forced to hide about in the now-evacuated city of Makkah. The guardsmen and SSG fared well against the terrorists, killing roughly 560 of them while others fled the scene into Mekkah and the countryside, where most of them were captured. And so the Grand mosque was finally freed after a two week long seizure by the so called Mahdi and his army.

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