Saudi Time Bomb?
haroun fazul
inside the mosque at mecca
join the discussion


Your "Saudi Time Bomb?" report aired on November 15, did a geat job highlighting the traditional duplicity of the Saudi government. Apparently you hit the nail right on the head because, just eleven days after the showing of your report, the Kingdom found it necessary to "sponsor" a thirteen page "spcial advertising section" in the November 26 edition of Newsweek, ostensibly to "selebrate the 20th anniversary of the reign of King Fahd".

This propaganda effort, glorifying the rules of Saudi Arabia, fell flat inasmuch as US readers remembe only too well that fourteen of the nineteen Septemer 11 mass muarderers were Saudis and that Hitler Bin Laden, their "sponsor" is also Saudi.

Is it a coincidence or did you schedule your report to be aired, almost to the day, on another Saudi anniversary: The 22nd anniversary of the explosion of the "First Saudi Time Bomb"? The exact date was November 20, 1979; The time was 5:00PM; The place was the courtyard of the Great Mosque at Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where over 50,000 Muslim pilgrims were devotedly swirling around the sacred Kaaba. The "time bomb" was set off by a Sauid pilgrim who did the unthinkable: In the very heart of Islam, at the Holy Kaaba, he brandished a submachine gun from under his djellaba and fired into the air. This was the signal for some 1,500 Saudi "pilgrims" to don red headbands; To display their hidden firearms; To occupy "strategic positions" and sacrilegiously take control of the Great Mosque.

In the ensuing pandemonium several thousand pilgrims were either trampled to death or shot by the Saudi security forces. But, as carefully planned, the "desecrators" were able to lead about 6,000 pilgrims to the "safety" of the uncharted underground cellars and passageways of the fifteen hundred year old Great Mosque, where they were held as hostages.To quell the revolution, which is was this mass action was, the Saudi government did not hesitate to call on a government of "infidels" for assistance: The French government was contacted, agreed to help and immediately dispatched on captain and two no-commissioned officers of their elite GIGN (Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale, a military/state police/delata force type organization.

Although "infidels" are strictly prohibited from entering the Mecca, the Saudi officials gave the French officers secret access to the city to evaluate the situation at the Great Mosque. After having oversome the stench of thousand decomposing cadavers, the French "gendarmes" eventuallly proposed to swamp the entire underground structure of the Great Mosquewith "tranquilizing gas". The Saudi government and Imam of the Great Mosque approved. Two tons of gas were flown in from France and on December 4, after a two week standoff and an expedited training by the French agents, the Saudi security forces attacked the rebels. The gas quickly neutralized the insurgents and their hostages.

Unfortunately the Saudi military took neither prisoners nor the time to sort out the rebels from the hostages.The resulting blood bath was horrendous BUT since that tragedy apparently no one has daredto challenge the authority of the King. AND through shrewd "education as well as targeted religious teachings", the rage of the likes of Hitler Bin Laden has been deflected from the House of Saud onto the White House!

white plains, ny


I must express my appreciation to Frontline for bringing home to the American public the complex nature of US-Saudi relations. Saudi Arabia is facing a serious political challenge in that as King Fahd dies a power struggle will occur.

I suspect bin laden is being supported by certain factions within the House of Saud that wish to challenge the pro-American regime. Growing social tensions particulary among many Saudi youth demanding political reform is helping to feed a fire that could spread out of control.

Saudi Arabia is crucial to the US not just because of oil and Israeli security. Should a radical Islamic regime come power there, it would spread to threaten key US interests in Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia and cause considerable trouble in the Islamic communities in Europe. Placing not only US economic interests in jeopardy, but US Security as well.

doug characky
saugus, ca


I thought your coverage was very good. It exposes to many the deep and complex nature of the situation that we now face. The dearth of traditional religious muslim scholars is I believe one of the reasons for the rise of fanaticism. It is unfortunately much easier to point fingers at others rather than to look at one's self and conduct the struggle (jihad) to purify and elevate one's own spiritual state. The school of Wahhabiism is merely filling in the void, much like the resentment towards the West that we see in many countries, muslims or non-muslims.

I disagree with a poster who recomended the book by Ibn Warraq. I would instead recommend Martin Ling's Life of Muhammad for anyone seriously interested in history. If traditional muslims were not the calm and peaceful beings that they were, then why is it that the Jewish and Christian communities were able to practice their faith and keep their synagogues and churches open for the past 1300 years in the holy city of Jerusalem?

Thank you and peace be upon you.

Saif Ramli
san jose, ca


Exposure of Wahabism in the program was remarkable. I wish the Saudi sponsored Wahabi organizations in Pakistan would have been mentioned. They are namely Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangavi. They were involved in the target shootings and murders of at least 75 Shiite doctors and tens of intellectuals. They were involved in many massacres of innocent people inside the Shiite mosques in Pakistan. Because of their Saudi and ISI link hardly anyone ever was convicted or caught.

asif ali
staten island, ny

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Sipah-e-Sahaba are Islamic militants (Sunnis)linked to the Taliban;Lashkar-e-
Jhangavi are Pakistan based extremists operating in Indian-held Kashmir.


I have yet to read through the whole site. I intend to do so, as the information is fascinating. The website layout, by the way, is really, really nice.

The phrase that caught my attention, and compelled me to write immediately, is the usage of the word madrassa. After the tragic events of 9/11, this word started popping up in the US media. It seems to have gained the meaning of religious, terroist breeding institute.

In fact, any school child in the Arab world gets up in the morning and goes to the madrassa, which is simply Arabic for school. The school I attended, and that my son is attending, is called, in Arabic, Madaris Al Dhahran AlAhliyya, or Dhahran Ahliyya Schools, where madaris is plural for madrassa, and Ahliyya means private. The internationa American school for expatriate children in the area is called, in Arabic, madrassat Aramco, or Aramco School.

I suggest Frontline coin its own phrase for the extreme religious schools that are discussed.

Best regards from Saudi Arabia.

Hiba Dia
dhahran, saudi arabia


Your report on Wahabism,and Saudi monarchy,both of which repress freedom of expression,logic,and progressive outlook deserve a grand applaud.

Being a muslim women from the south asian region -Bangladesh I have been exposed to Islam that more often expressed itself through the mystic songs,and poetry of the seekers,and loving embrace of God's creation as it's own.For more than a decade this country has been ruled by two female prime ministers,and women are slowly emerging in the forefront of socil and economic leadership.

Nonetheless my recent visit to my homeland presented a bleak scenario in which the tolerant expression of Islam is gradually being replaced by the intolerant,and distorted form of Islam exported by the rich saudi wahabi groups.Interstingly,more often these radical brands of muslims enjoy the blessings of the mega multinational corporations or the super powers for their short term gains.The history of Bangladesh is a witness to this fact.

The U.S leadership,would do a service to its own nation and the humanity at large if it would encourage the moderate muslim leadership imbibed in the spirit of universal values of kindeness,equality,freedom ,and justice to emerge.

silverspring, maryland


Your last line in this report is perhaps most telling: about our dependence on Saudi oil. Why don't you do a program about our overconsumption of oil and how to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil?

Please don't forget to mention that oil production in the US peaked in 1970 and that oil production in every single oil producing state in the US is in decline including Alaska, Texas, Oklahoma, California etc.

If you receive funding from any automotive companies, I guess I know why this program will never be written nor produced--they make too much money--in the short term, getting Americans to buy the biggest most gas guzzling SUVs and continuing the short term insanity of overconsuming petroleum which is affordable now, but not forever.

In fact oil experts predict world oil production will peak in 2005-2020. When that happens it is likely to be the case that petroleum will cease to be cheap! Saudi Arabia with the largest oil reserves by far will become even wealthier!

alan root
san diego, ca


The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States has always been fraught with contradictions. ...Now, following the involvement of as many as fifteen Saudis in the September 11th attacks, we can no longer deny the reality that many Saudis regard the US as an enemy of Islam, and not a few of those actively support a violent jihad to get us out of their country, so they can overthrow their rulers.

Tape cassettes of talks by clerics urging such a jihad have been circulating illegally in Saudi Arabia for years. If this crisis comes to a head in Saudi, will the US come to the rescue of the Saudi Royal family, corrupt as that family is, or what exactly will it do? One of the most closely held secrets in US ruling circles has to do with contigency plans to occupy the oil fields of Saudi Arabia if the country does enter a period of instability. We will not allow 25% of the world's oil reserves to fall into the hands of extreme elements even if they are nationals of Arabia. I don't know this for a fact, but I'm willing to bet we have such contingency plans.

weston, ma


Just like every other program in this series about terrorism, Saudi Time Bomb was outstanding. I have learned more about the Middle East from watching this series of programs than I have from watching 50 years of commercial television. You put these events in context in such a way that it is almost impossible not understand what is happening. Please keep up the good work and repeat Saudi Time Bomb. This type of programing is what keeps me contributing to Public Television.

George Stephens
los angeles, california


I have always been an enthusiastic follower of your insightful journalism. Although September 11th was a deep shock, in some ways the writing was on the wall.

Having lived in Saudi Arabia for two years and in the United Arab Emirates for a year, I looked forward to your special on Saudi which just aired. Having done your research, and done a great job, Im sure you dont need my particular insights.

It is a very bizarre culture where fear reigns, and living there really made me appreciate the fact that I was born in the west where we often take our freedom for granted. My initial feeling after September 11th was that we should withdraw our troops from Saudi because they have increased tension there over the years. But after your program, Im not so sure now.


It sounds idealistic, but what I really believe will be the solution is to free ourselves from our dependence on these oil rich countries. We need an alternative to oil, but not nuclear power as our president suggested in a recent speech. It was so easy for our enemies to destroy the Twin Towers, imagine vulnerable targets like nuclear plants.

Saudi Arabia is, despite its immense wealth and modern infrastructure, a very primitive culture. They were Bedouins in the desert not that long ago. They have not evolved gradually with modern life as is more normal in a developing country. Their particular interpretation of Islam does not allow them the opportunity to grow and decide for themselves what to accept and reject n their lives. Western influence with all its gadgets, cars, phones, (hot water!) are greedily welcome but not our Western way of life. They feel threatened by equality of women whom they both fear and lust after. Everything is available in the Kingdom: wine, women, drugs, but all are obtained and used secretly so it is a kind of schizophrenic culture.

In addition, Saudi and other oil rich nations such as Kuwait have a very prominent weakness: they rely heavily on skilled and unskilled workers to run their countries. During the Gulf War, normal life in Kuwait practically ground to a halt because most of the expatriates left. there was no one left to remove their garbage or run their electricity plants. Doctors and nurses who run their hospitals are mainly expatriates.

In closing, I want to say great job Frontline. I only wish more Americans were regular viewers. I am a New Yorker and still smell the burning World Trade Center and see the body trucks. We have gotten our wake up call.

Now is Americas opportunity to self-reflect, consider the consequences of all of our actions whether it is bombing a faraway country or putting holes in the ozone layer. This could be our time to make so many changes.

Y Farrell

brooklyn, ny


Thank you for producing these utterly quality and informative programs. I have to know what is going on and want to understand why. I look forward to Frontline because it informs further than any other program I know of. I don't have cable. So, Ch34 (Columbus, OH), Meet the Press, Dateline, 48 Hours are the types of programming I watch. Plus I did purchase "Study of Revenge" after watching your last segment.

I appreciate you for bringing these lesser known details and historical facts to our attention.

Mary Slyby
columbus, oh


Excellent Show. Thank You! I just wish even more Americans had the opportunity to see it.

I would love to see more shows along these lines on the Arab World and Middle East. It's a highly complex situation and the more informed we as Americans become, the better off we will all be in figuring out how to better deal with the problems from that part of the world that have now crossed onto our shores.

Carmen Grullon
new york, new york


Your report "Saudi Time Bomb" is very informative. It focuses on the Medaras (school) and the rise of extremism in Islam particularly Wahabism. You should know that the Medaras is derived from the Hebrew "medarasa." The Jewish medarasa is still active in teaching the Torah and the Talmud. Indeed, Jackie Mason, a Jewish commentator, a few years ago taught several Jewish Senators and Congressmen in medarasa. Christian people also have their own "Bible School."

Unlike, the Jewish and Christian Bible schools, the classical Medaras in Islam focus primarily, in the first few years, on teaching logic, rhetoric, and grammar. After that, the focus is on religious matters. For this reason, many of the graduates of the classical Medaras were philosophers, poets, and novelists. The Wehabi Medaras share many similarities with the Jewish medarasa, as they focus on reciting the Quran and the literal interpretation of the Bible.

The rise of Wahabism in Arabia around 1740s represents a setback in Islamic thinking. The founder of this sect, Mohamed bin Abdul Wahab, was denounced by the Ottoman ruler and the government sought his arrest. He was accused by the Muslim government at that time of deviating from the Islamic mainstream thinking by blending Jewish thinking into Islamic thought. He was on the run and took refuge in the desert. where bin Saud (Saudi Arabia named after him) protected him.

From 1940 to 1980, the hegemonic Western powers in the Arab world (first the Britain and France, and later the U.S.) supported the extreme religious and national movements to protect the corrupt Arab regimes from the sweeping progressive movements (mostly socialists & communists). In fact, the extreme national movement (the Ba'ath Party that governs Iraq & Syria) was supported by France, Britain and the Vatican to counter the influence of communists in the Arab east. The support for Wahabism and other extreme religious movements in the Arab and Islamic world by the Western powers was seen by enlightened people there as an attempt to keep that world in the dark. To correct this, the West in general and the U.S. in particular, should encourage; liberty, openness, and freedom; economic integration; and self-determination for the Arab people. This is the only way to sustain peace and stability.

abbas ali
indiana, pennsylvania


I watched your program on the House of Saud last night, shaking my head the entire time. The point seemed clear as the sounding of a Saturday siren--American overconsumption of oil has directly lead to the spread of Islamic terrorism. Saudi Arabia's wealth is being used to finance militant schools where young Muslims are being indoctrinated into the ways of intolerance and terrorism. The money is literally pouring in from the United States. If we had the courage and providence to develop an energy and transportation policy that would include research, development AND implementation of better mass transportation like monorails and renewable resources such as fuel cell technology, we might have a different future in store for our children. Instead, it seems, we'll be fighting this type of terrorist war against intolerance for as long as we are stupid enough to get into our SUVs and drive down to the corner store for a gallon of milk.

Richard Horan
oconomowoc, wisconsin


A very well thought out and informative documentary series. The integration with web resources is very effective and complementary. I found the full text of the interviews informative, adding to the dimensions touched on by the series. Far from being slanted and focusing on sound bites, the series takes the time to delve into the underlying issues, and provides a concrete reference point.

I would like to complement the creators of this series on their commitment to ingenious intelligent documentary, by the use of effective investigative journalism. The depth and tone of this series (and accompanying web content) provides a much needed counterpoint to the current lassitude of jingoistic and yellow journalism, so often seen in the American media.


calgary, alberta


Just watched the PBS story on TV. Best TV show I ever saw. I am convinced that the deep imbedded hatred of America is so severe that all the world will suffer for years to come.

Frankly, it looks to me like once again, religion is being used as a "front" for a political struggle that has its roots in one group of people seeking to gain political, religious and economic control over others. It is so sad to see history repeat itself again and again: It is always the young and the poor who are used by the wealthy by whatever means works.

Seems like it is alway religion being used as a "front" to gain the support of the uneducated masses who then sacrifice themselves for those in power... We are in for a World War and buy calls on military industrial stocks. This problem will not be solved by bombing people who live in poverty.

The only solution I can see is for America to go in to Palestine, militarily if necessary, and give them a homeland while making Jerusulem a holy city under the control of the United Nations. We must gain the high ground, from a religious point of view, because that is the basis for their hatred of us. Get the hell out of Saudi Arabia while we are at it. This problem is only beginning and the sooner we recognize that bombing innocent people only fuels the fire of their hatred of us, the better. Make them our friends and then rip them off economically. Late.

steve roberts
san diego, ca


home · introduction · interviews · analyses · haroun fazul · chronology
discussion · links & readings · reporting from the new york times
tapes & transcripts · press reaction · credits · privacy policy · FRONTLINE · pbs online · wgbh

photo copyright © afp/corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation