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On November 22, 1979, Pakistani students, enraged by a radio report claiming that the United States had bombed the Masjid al-Haram, Islam's holy site at Mecca, stormed the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, and burned it to the ground.[1] Grand Mosque had suffered a terrorist attack, but the U.S. was not involved. The diplomats survived by hiding in a reinforced area, though Marine Security Guard Steve Crowley, 20; another American, Army Warrant Officer Bryan Ellis, 30; and two Pakistan staff members were killed in the attack.

On 20 November 1979, a Saudi Arabian Islamic zealot group had led a takeover of the Mosque at Mecca. The group's demands included calling for the cutoff of oil exports to the United States and the expulsion of all foreign civilian and military experts from the Arabian Peninsula.[2] However, ironically Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini immediately claimed that Americans were behind the attack on Islam's holiest place. This claim was repeated in media reports the morning of 21 November.

The event started as a small, peaceful protest against U.S. policies in Cambodia, as well as suspected U.S. involvement surrounding the military coup d'état of Zulfikar Bhutto in 1977. The protesters shouted anti-American slogans. At first glance the event seemed to be a small protest outside the embassy's walls. Later, buses filled with Jamaat-i-Islami supporters began arriving in front of the main gate. Hundreds of people began climbing over the walls and trying to pull the walls down using ropes. According to an American investigation, the protesters (believing that an American marine on the roof of the embassy had fired first) opened fire after a bullet fired at the gate's lock by one rioter ricocheted and struck other protesters. Who actually fired first has not been determined. Twenty-year-old Marine Steve Crowley was struck by a bullet and transported to the embassy's secure communication vault along with the rest of personnel serving in the embassy. Locked behind steel-reinforced doors the Americans waited for help to come and rescue them from the smoke-filled building.

A detailed narrative of this event is provided in the book Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll.

See also


  1. 1979 Embassy Siege In Islamabad Still Haunts Survivors. Accessed 2009-08-26. Archived 2009-09-03.
  2. Wright, Looming Tower, (2006), p.92

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