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The great secrets of human bombs society part 5/5

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sleeper cells and Fear of the Assassins

Fear of the Assassins grew not only out of their ruthlessness but also from the unpredictability of their actions, and the near impossibility of preventing an attack once a command was issued. Hasan and his successors originated and perfected the strategy of “sleeper cells,” dedicated killers dispatched to communities hundreds of miles away and instructed to meld into local society until ordered to act. These devotees might wait for years until contacted by an envoy. By this time, they could approach the victim without raising suspicion about their identity or intention.
Adding to the difficulty would be the assassin’s demeanor—calm almost pleasurable, not fearing reprisal but actually welcoming it as his entry into Paradise.

The Assassins, under the direction of Hasan and his lieutenants, terrorized the Middle East into the thirteenth century. Hasan’s son and loyal followers assumed leadership after the founder’s death, and at least three generations of his descendants carried on his work. But not even the Assassins could resist the brutality of the Mongols.
Hasan’s grandson provided the first break with the murderous tradition. Upon his elevation to the position of Imam in 1210, Hasan III did the unthinkable by converting to the Sunni faith, restoring Islamic law and even inviting Sunni teachers to visit
Alamut. The apparent conversion had less to do with theology than with practicality and survival: hordes of Mongols, whose legendary ferocity made even the Assassins quake in their boots, were beginning to flow across the steppes into Persia.
Faced with a common enemy  both Shiites and Sunnis set aside their differences to launch a mutual defense.
Hasan III’s sense of discretion was not, unfortunately for his followers, passed on to his son Muhammad III, also called Aladdin (Height of the Faith). Muhammad returned the group to Shiite beliefs and exceeded all previous Assassin leaders for cruelty to the point where most historians consider him mad. He was so intolerable that his followers quickly transferred their allegiance to his son Khurshah, who attempted to negotiate an understanding with the Mongols now heavily infiltrating the mountainous area.

It was too late. In the mid-thirteenth century, the Mongol leader Hulagu Khan began methodically attacking each mountain stronghold of the Assassins. Using trickery, brutality and the force of overwhelming arms, the Mongols seized each fortress one by one, slaughtering the inhabitants and laying waste to the carefully contrived Paradise on Earth.
The Assassins were too devoted, too fanatic, and too numerous to be totally eliminated, even by the Mongols who swept through the region like a tsunami of slaughter. A few managed to escape to India, where they became known as the Khojas (honorable converts) and resumed their practices on a limited scale. Remnants of the sect reportedly still exist in Iraq, Iran and Syria, but they are little more than splinter groups of militant Shiites.

The Assassins were more than an early prototype of Murder Inc Their influence extends, in both benign and malignant versions, through the present day. The concentric circular construction of the Abode of Learning, adapted by Hasan, became a prototype for restricted organizations and secret societies. Most notable are the Freemasons, who drew inspiration for their organizational structure from the Knights Templar, reputed allies of the Assassins during the Crusades.
The most extreme and trustworthy followers of Hasan and his successors became known as fidayeen.
The name continues to be attached to Islamic fanatics battling enemies of the Prophet, whether infidel Westerners or Muslims following a wrong path. For most of them, including the fanatical young men who flew hijacked American aircraft into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the motivation continues to be the promise of eternity in Paradise, an incentive that seems to work even without the persuasion of Hasan’s contrived “previews.”
The tactic of embedding followers into a targeted society as “sleepers,” suicidal fanatics prepared to slaughter as many people as necessary in the name of their cause, is another element inherited from a millennium ago. Both the promise of Paradise and adherents immersing themselves for years in the very culture they have vowed to destroy are familiar to everyone aware of Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda first design

Al Qaeda does not entirely duplicate the design first established by the Assassins. Their assumed leader Osama bin Laden is a Sunni, not a Shiite, although extreme elements from both factions stand united against much of the Western world. And while the Assassins recruited young men as suicidal killers on the promise of immediate dispatch to Paradise and the arms of waiting houris, violent Muslim factions recently have succeeded in recruiting young women to carry out similar missions based, apparently, solely on dedication to the group’s success. Clearly, however, the link between Hasan’s Assassins and bin Laden’s Al Qaeda remains unbroken. Were Hasan, the Old Man of the Mountain, to meet with Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, they would see each other as compatriots, brothers under the skin.


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