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reason: It must not have been easy to find sources for your book, given that the Grand Mosque takeover remains something of a taboo subject in Saudi Arabia. How did you manage to do it?
Yaroslav Trofimov: I had reported from Saudi Arabia before, for the Wall Street Journal, and so I had met many of the younger generation of Islamic dissidents, the so-called sahwa. Once I finally received my visa, I started out by visiting them all and asking whether they knew anyone who had been involved with Juhayman. At the same time, I asked other Saudi acquaintances to introduce me to worshippers and soldiers who were in the Grand Mosque during the siege. A few of the soldiers agreed to share their memories, including the chief of operations for the Interior Ministry's forces during the siege.
The hardest part was tracking down surviving gunmen. Almost all the adult ones were killed after the siege, either in public beheadings or secret executions. I found a few who were 15 or 16 years of age at the time of the uprising. Having survived long prison terms, many of them were too scared to talk. But some opened up, with one staying in my hotel room the entire night and recounting the horrors of the siege blow by blow as he emptied my minibar of its (strictly non-alcoholic) contents.
Towards the end of my research, I also met with Prince Turki, who was Saudi Arabia's head of intelligence during the uprising, and who explained some details of the crisis. I also interviewed all the French commandos who helped secure the mosque, and a number of American diplomats and spies. Crucially, through a Freedom of Information Act request, I obtained the declassification of hundreds of secret U.S. and United Kingdom government documents related to the siege, including the relevant part of the personal diary of the U.S. ambassador in Saudi Arabia, John C. West.
Reason contributing editor Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon.