Looking back, there were signs to be seen of what was to come. Some remembered noticing bizarre sessions of machete practice in the yard of the mansion at upper 16th Street.
Others recalled recent visits by members of the Hanafi family to the B'nai B'rith building and the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Pension Building. Another person spoke of overhearing careful, rather than casual goodbyes on Tuesday at the Hanafi-run jewelry store in Georgetown.
And then it began.
At 9 a.m. Wednesday, a man named Abdul Latif, who listed his address as 1436 Tuckerman St. NW, rented a U-Haul truck from Dennis Boyle at Wheaton Texaco. Within two hours, the truck was parked unobtrusively in an alley next to the B'nai B'rith, while its passengers selected the weapons they would need for the assault - rifles, handguns, machetes and the cross-bow.
Within minutes, Hamaas Abdul Khazlis and six other Hanafi Muslims invaded the Rhode Island Avenue headquarters of B'nai B'rith, the Jewish service organization. They swept before them, in a rage of swinging machetes and anti-Semitic curses, passersby as well as employees. The building had received frequent threats in the past, but security apparently has never been strict. "All you have to do is sign in," the husband of one woman trapped in the building said later. "Apparently they just ran in."
As the Hanafis rounded up hostages, Jean Eiland, a secretary in the building who was unaware of the assault, looked out a sixth floor window at the first gathering of police.
"I made a joke," she said later. "I said they were probably there because of terrorists because of the Rabin visit (Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin) and that the terrorists were probably going to take hostages."
About the same time, at the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue NW, three other followers of Khaalis burst into the office of director Dr. Mohammad Abdul Rauf and took another band of hostages, including three visitors to the center's mosque.
Abdel Rahman Osman, assistant director of the center, was returning to his office after prayers in the adjoining mosque when Osman met the gunmen. One of the attackers was a student who had attended his classes at the center.
"He used to come in a long gown and cap. He was really nice. I was really surprised," Osman said later. "I was really surprised. 'You are going to do this?' I said in astonishment. He said 'Just relax.'"
News of the two captured buildings quickly circulated through the city; police and reporters raced to the mosque and B'nai B'rith on a mild, sunny Wednesday afternoon.
The gunmen eventually told police who they were - Hanafi Muslims - but the police knew little more than that. Two years before, extensive police files on the religious group had been destroyed by police as part of a drive to end controversy over surveillance projects.
Shortly after 2 p.m. last Wednesday, with authorities still uncertain of the gunmen's intentions, two more gunmen slipped past guards into the District Building and burst out onto the fifth floor in an apparent attempt to seize city officials.
As bureaucrats dived for cover, gunfire exploded in the hallway outside the City Council chambers. A 24-year-old radio reporter, Maurice Williams, fell dead. City Councilman Marion Barry collpased with a bullet in his chest. Security guard Mack Cantrell also was prostrate, seriously wounded.
Barry found safety in the Council Chambers and was later rescued by firemen who put an extension ladder up to a fifth floor window. Barry didn't know who had shot him or why nor, apparently, did the gunmen apparently know who Barry, Cantrell or Williams were.
For many hours, it seemed as if the District Building siege was separate from the Hanafi actions at the mosque and B'nai B'rith. The District Building gunmen refused to say why they were there or what they wanted.
But they were being directed by Hanafi leader Khaalis, a 54-year-old native of Gary, Ind., who once played jazz drums under his original name, Ernest McGhee.
Khaalis had once before been thrust into Washington headlines; in January 1973, seven men attacked the Hanafi home and slaughtered seven members of Khaalis' family, including two infants. Five of the seven suspects all of them Black Muslims, were subsequently convicted oft he killings.
As Wednesday wore on in a tense standoff, with heavily armed police facing Hanafis who seemed determined to shed blood, Khaalis' aims slowly emerged from the confusion:
He wanted a commercial film about the Prophet Mohammed to be shut down immediately because Khaalis said it was an affront to his religion. More ominously, he demanded that the convicted killers of his family be brought before him and his men - with their guns.
The film was withdrawn immediately by its East Coast distributors.
Other city offices and courts were closed and reinforced against possible attacks, and numerous city officials as well as some congressmen were placed under police protection.
Police moved to try to locate people trapped in the B'nai B'rith and District buildings who were not under control of the gunmen. Mayor Walter E. Washington was himself barricaded in his office until early evening.
By nightfall, telephone negotiations with Khaalis had begun, at first informally by the ambassadors of Egypt and Pakistan, who read from the Koran and pointed out to the Hanafis the compassion of Islam.
Hundreds of other calls - from newsmen and others trying to help and from a few cranks who argued with the gunmen - flooded the three locations.
Many of the calls were from anxious relatives of hostages. The brother of mosque assistant director Osman called from Egypt. A Jordanian, Khalil Aburish, who works at the Calvert Cafe in Washington called the Islamic Center, too.
"We read him (the gunman who answered) the first chapter of the Koran which says you must be merciful, you must not murder," he said.
Hundreds of people gathered near the three hostage sites, bringing together anguished loved ones, idle onlookers, policemen and reporters. At the Indian Trade Mission building across from the Islamic Center, for instance, Salah Bayoumi, husband of an Egyptian secretary at the center waited anxiously with Karl von Goetz, a self-described mercenary who claimed he had just returned from Rhodesia. Bayoumi frequently went outside to gaze at the mosque and to wipe his eyes. Von Goetz was more vocal and demonstrative, trying to trade himself for his sister, a hostage inside the mosque.
Throughout Wednesday evening, the bizarre was intermingled with the serious.
A California congressman Rep. Robert Dornan went to the District Building to offer himself in exchange for a hostage there.
The same evening a Washington resident got a call from his realtor, saying a scheduled house visit by a prospective buyer had to be canceled. The visitor was a hostage.
Thursday morning the overall situation was unchanged. Troops moved out at 9 a.m. from Ft. Myer with a phalanx of antitank guns - to be used for a 19-gun salute to visiting British Prime Minister James Callaghan. Fearful that the firing of blank ammunition might unsettle the Hanafi gunmen, however, officials canceled the salute.
Throughout the day, regular communications continued between police and Khaalis. At the three locations, captors and hostages kept track of the situation by listening to radios.
At the mosque, this routine was interrupted periodically - and the radio turned down - for prayer by Rauf and Osman. Those at the Islamic Center also engaged in sometimes heated religious debates.
The atmosphere was most harrowing at the B'nai B'rith building where Khaalis ranted anti-Semitic epithets against the 105 hostages there. Betty Neal was picked as his secretary because she was not a Jew. Several hostages were beaten by their agitated captors.
Mimi Feldman, 60, one of those held at the Jewish group's building, said later she was so afraid of the Hanafis' tirades that she took off a gold chain with a star of David on it, a pendant she had never removed in 18 years.
Despite her terror, she couldn't help thinking about the steaks she'd just bought and not rewrapped for the freezer. "Sometimes I caught myself worrying about whether they'd spoil if we were in here over the weekend."
That same afternoon, Wallace Muhammad, spirtual leader of the Black Muslims, arrived in Washington to offer assistance in freeing the hostages. But city and federal officials refused to meet with him, apparently fearing that such a meeting might touch off more violence because the Black Muslims and the Hanafis are bitter rivals.
As the day continued, most attention was focused on the B'nai B'rith building. While police lounged in the sun at the Islamic Center in clear view of the gunmen, officers at the Rhode Island Avenue site were carrying rifles and sledgehammers and crowbars into the building.
These ominous signs changed, though, shortly after 7 p.m. when word spread that a face-to-face conference was to be held in the first floor lobby. Khaalis was joined by his son-in-law, Abdul Aziz, who traveled to the site with police Capt. Joseph M. O'Brien, the homicide detective who helped solve the brutal Hanafi murders in 1973.
Also at the rectangular table were Ambassadors Ardeshir Zahedi, Iran; Sahabza Yaqub Khan, Pakistan; and Ashraf Ghorbal, Egypt. The talks got off to an awkward start, when Khaalis sought guarantees of immunity against prosecution for himself and his eleven men. This was promptly turned down by Police Chief Maurice J. Cullinane.
But discussions proceeded for about three hours, and the ambassadors sought to soften the Hanafis' views by quoting peaceable passages from the Koran. When the diplomats adjourned about 11 p.m., they left believing that a settlement could be reached by Friday morning.
But agreement came sooner, when Khaalis unexpectedly agreed to end the siege during phone conversation about midnight.
Shortly before two, Khaalis and his men stood handcuffed in the lobby of B'nai B'rith and the first of the hostages stumbled out into the night to meet grateful relatives.
The ordeal was over.