September 25, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Did you know that on the day of judgment, Jesus will slaughter an army of infidels to protect the Islamic faithful? That’s just one of the surprising insights into the jihadist mind-set offered in Yaroslav Trofimov’s The Siege of Mecca, an action-packed book that recounts how a small army of fundamentalists seized Islam’s holiest site, the Grand Mosque of Mecca, for two weeks in 1979. Trofimov makes a good case that this little-known event, in which tens of thousands were held hostage and a thousand died, led to the birth of al-Qaeda. He combines political analysis and breathless narrative (”trigger fingers caressing the cold metal”) to describe the deadliest terrorist attack prior to 9/11. B+

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