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What Was the 1977 Hanafi Siege in Washington, D.C.?

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What Was the 1977 Hanafi Siege in Washington, D.C.?

The John A. Wilson building in Washington, D.C., also known as city hall, and the three sites of the March 1977 siege in which 12 members of the Black Muslim Hanafi sect took 134 hostages in a 39-hour ordeal.

Andrew Wiseman
Question: What Was the 1977 Hanafi Siege in Washington, D.C.?
Answer: Late on March 9, 1977, twelve members of an American Black Muslim sect known as the Hanafi (the name is derived from the oldest legalist school in Islam) seize three office buildings in Washington, D.C., killing a radio reporter (Maurice Williams, 24, of WHUR-FM), wounding 13 people and taking 134 hostages. Mack Cantrell, a city police officer wounded in the assault, died several days later of a heart attack.

The three offices the gunmen took over were the international headquarters of B'Nai B'rith, the Jewish organization; the Islamic Center and Mosque; and the District of Columbia's city council offices (where city council member Marion Barry, who'd become a controversial mayor some years later, was wounded by shrapnel.)

The ordeal was ended peacefully 38 hours later as the gunmen gave up, and their leader was freed on bail. Two factors led to the peaceful resolution of the crisis. First, D.C. police and the FBI were restrained as patience prevailed over force. Second, and probably more significant, was the intervention in the negotiations of three ambassadors from Islamic nations--Ashraf Ghorbal of Egypt, Ardeshir Zahedi of Iran, and Sahabzada Yakub-Khan of Pakistan, who met for three hours with the leader of the gunmen shortly before the remaining hostages were released.

The sect was led by a man who called himself Khalafaa Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, 55 at the time, previously a national secretary for the Nation of Islam who was formerly known as Ernest Timothy McGhee, of Gary, Ind. He'd supposedly joined the Nation of Islam not as a faithful believer of its leader, Elijah Muhammad, but to persuade his followers to abandon him and Muhammad's policy of black separatism.

In 1973, seven members of Khaalis' Hanafi group were murdered. Four of the seven were Khaalis' children. Khaalis blamed the murder on members of the Nation of Islam. He vowed at the time that he was "going to get them."

The Washington siege was the fulfillment of that vow. His neighbors, The New York Times reported, had known him as a volatile, violent, threatening man. "His grief over the 1973 slayings," the newspaper reported, "was compounded by what he felt were snubs by Washington officials, including President Nixon who, Khaalis said, "mourned the death of President Johnson but not my family."

His demands during the siege:

  • Cancellation of the premier of "Mohammed, Messenger of God," a $17 million movie about the life of the Prophet Muhammad, produced and directed by Mustapha Akkad. It was set to open in Manhattan and New Jersey. (Movie houses agreed to suspend the showings, but the movie was shown on March 12.)

  • The release of eight convicted murderers, all of them Black Muslims, including two members of the Nation of Islam convicted of murdering Malcolm X in 1965 and seven followers of Hanafi convicted of murder in 1973.

  • Meetings with Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight champion of the world. Ali refused. "If you're concerned about me, don't get me involved," United Press International quoted him as saying. Speaking to ABC News' Barbara Walters, Ali said he would only speak to President Carter about the siege.

Following negotiations with the ambassadors, the gunmen released the hostages and surrendered. They were freed ion bail, but were later tried and convicted of kidnapping and murder charges.

Convictions and Sentences

On Sept. 6, 1977, Judge Nicholas Nunzio, who had prseided over the 12 Hanafi gunmen's eight-week trial, sentenced Khaalis to 41 to 123 years in prison. The other sentences:

  • Abdul Muzikir, 22, 77 years to life.
  • Abdullah Qawee, 22, a.k.a. Samuel Young, 24 to 72 years.
  • Abdul Rahman, 38, a.k.a. Clyde Young, 28 to 84 years.
  • Abdul Rahim, 26, a.k.a. Philip Young, 28 to 84 years.
  • Abdul Adam, 31, a.k.a. George W. Smith, 44 to 132 years.
  • Abdul Latif, 34, a.k.a. Carl E. Roper, 36 to 108 years.
  • Abdul Shaheed, 23, a.k.a. Marvin Salder, 36 to 108 years.
  • Abdul Salaam, 31, a.k.a. Clarence White, 40 to 120 years.
  • Abdul Hamid, 22, a.k.a. Hilvan Jude Finch, 36 to 108 years.
  • Abdul Hazzaaq, 23, a.k.a. Nelson McQueen Jr., 40 to 120 years.

Khaalis died at the Federal Complex Prison in Butner, N.C., on November 13 2003.

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