Remembering the Hanafi Siege: 40 years later

The Hanafi siege: 40 years ago today

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - It was 40 years ago on Wednesday, terrorists took over the District like a bloody scene out of a movie. 

But, this was real. Gunmen stormed three buildings in D.C., held nearly 150 people hostage, and killed two people just doing their job, a security guard, and a radio reporter.

It was called the Hanafi Siege, led by the founder of the Hanafi Muslim sect.

It was March 9th, 1977. Gunmen seized control of the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Ave., the Wilson Building (then known as the District Building) and B’nai Brith’s headquarters, back when it was on Scott Circle. They busted in with rifles and machetes, and they didn’t care if people lived or died.

One witness recounted, "They put a 44 magnum in my face, telling me to get up, don’t move, go to the back and lay on the floor. "

Dan Mariaschin, the CEO of B’nai Brith told WUSA9 it was the first major terrorist attack in a major city, "It was a precursor to all that we see, not only in the middle east but here."

The start of this attack started percolating long before, when Hamaas Abdul Khaalis broke with the Nation of Islam and founded the Hanafi sect, its rival. He published a letter critical of them.

Gunmen murdered seven of his family members. Many of them were his children. Four years later, he ordered the 1977 Hanafi Siege, in which WHUR radio reporter Maurice Williams was killed.

Security guard Mark Cantrell was hurt, and later died. Several people were pistol whipped, or shot, including then-Councilman Marion Barry.

The standoff lasted two days. Abdul Aziz, the son-in-law of Khaalis told reporters this about the hostages, "If the demands aren’t met, their heads will be chopped off and thrown out the window."

Khaalis had demands for their release. He wanted the murderers of his family turned over to him, even though the men were arrested and sentenced to life behind bars. He also wanted the film 'Mohammed, Messenger of God' to be pulled from the theaters, because he sad it was disrespectful.

Eventually, three Muslim ambassadors talked Khaalis into letting the hostages go.

Mariaschin shared, "I think we really need an international effort, a global effort to defeat the terrorist organizations."

On this anniversary, WHUR overnight DJ John Blake remembering that day and his friend, WHUR radio reporter Maurice Williams,  "I remember the moment so vividly. The news department is in disarray. Because we couldn't believe it first of all. a young man is gone so quickly."

Khaalis and several others were sentenced to prison. Khaalis died in prison in 2003.

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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