The Hanafi Siege: 40 Hours of Terror in the Nation’s Capital

Some of the ammo and weapons seized by law enforcement following the Hanafi Siege in 1977.


“This was an early wake-up call about violence and terrorism and the extent to which groups will go to engage in violence either for the sake of violence or to make a point.”
Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International to the Washington Post, March 12, 2007

On March 10, 1977 a dozen men armed with guns, knives and machetes, seized control of three buildings in downtown Washington, DC. They took close to 150 people hostage, most of them from inside the B’nai B’rith headquarters building. A radio reporter and security guard were killed, and several others, including then DC Councilman Marion Barry, were wounded.
The assailants were part of a group known as Hanafi Muslims led by Hamas Abdul Khaalis, a former Nation of Islam secretary who later became critical of the Nation of Islam. He left the group to form a rival Islamic organization known as the Hanafi movement. The group established its headquarters in a home in Washington, DC that had been purchased by basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In 1973, seven members of Khaalis’ family were murdered inside the home. Khaalis blamed the Nation of Islam.
Khaalis made three demands during the siege: he wanted the DC government to turn over men who had been convicted of murdering his family along with those convicted of killing Malcolm X. He also wanted a movie about the prophet Mohammed banned because he believed it to be a sacrilegious portrayal.
The gunmen started shooting as soon as they entered the building — killing a young radio reporter named Maurice Williams and a security guard named Mack Cantrell. Councilman Marion Barry walked out of his office to see what was going on and was shot and injured. He made his way back into the council chamber and was rescued by firemen who used a ladder to get him out of the building and take him to the hospital.
During the siege, the Metropolitan (DC) Police Department spent almost 40 hours negotiating with Khaalis, who finally agreed to meet with city officials and ambassadors from Egypt, Pakistan, and Iran. Metropolitan (DC) Deputy Chief Robert Rabe persuaded Khaalis to leave his stronghold in the B’nai B’rith building, while Police Chief Maurice Cullinane persuaded him to surrender his weapons. The ambassadors convinced Khaalis to release all of the hostages.
On the 40th anniversary of the siege in 2017, Cullinane reflected that he would handle the situation the same way today, telling The Washington Post, “If it meant saving 149 lives, I would still be talking to (Khaalis) on the phone.”
Khaalis and the other gunmen were convicted and sent to prison, where Khaalis died in 2003.