- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 27, 2005

Reports now suggest Iran has set up four camps to train suicide bombers. Administered by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, this group is tied closely to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorists. The IRGC also has had many contacts with al Qaeda’s Ayman Al-Zawahiri, deputy to Osama bin Laden.

In fact, Iran through the IRGC provides more than $100 million a year to the Hezbollah, in addition to what the terrorist group gets from Lebanese expatriates from Latin America, West Africa to the Far East. Hezbollah also has been involved in planning insurgent attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq in close operational cooperation with al Qaeda.

Recent shaped charge attacks causing many U.S. Marine casualties near the Syrian border had all the earmarks of Hezbollah. The actual ordnance most likely came from Iran.

Suicide bombings are Hezbollah’s signature. The group made its terrorist debut in the April 18, 1983, bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. Then on Oct. 23, 1983, Hezbollah was responsible for the suicide truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, killing some 220 U.S. Marines and 21 other U.S. Service members.

Hezbollah also has carried out many other truck bombings, including the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building in Argentina.

The success of Hezbollah’s suicide truck bombings has inspired al Qaeda to use that method in its “jihad” or war against the United States and other Western countries. The devastating al Qaeda suicide attacks on September 11, 2001, against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon reflect that.

Besides suicide attacks, al Qaeda in Iraq under Abu Musab Zarqawi has inflicted many hostage beheadings.

Al Qaeda’s decapitations represent nothing new in the nearly 1,500 years of Islam. In fact, beheadings occurred in the time of Mohammed, who lived until 632 AD. A passage in the Koran (sura 47, verse 4) says: “When you encounter those [infidels] who deny [the Truth, Islam], then strike their necks.”

Believing they carry out Mohammed’s original teachings, al Qaeda members recently fulfilled this dictate with Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg, in addition to other foreign nationals from countries aiding coalition forces in Iraq.

This modern fanaticism among predominantly moderate Muslims worldwide may well mirror a similar, more deliberate fanaticism with roots going back at least to the 12th century.

The notion of Paradise accompanied with various numbers of virgins for Islamic martyrs, unquestioned discipline and dying as martyrs in spreading Islamic teachings is rooted in the history of a secret Islamic cult group called the Assassins. Their influence extended over Persia and what was Palestine 1,000 years ago.

The Assassins, known for political murders, were founded by Hasan-i-Sabah, also known as “The Old Man of the Mountain” in the Elburz Mountains of northern Iran. He was born in Qum, southwest of Tehran in Persia, which is modern Iran, the same country that reportedly has now set up suicide training camps.

Sabah was very strict, disciplined in his religious fervor. He sent missionaries throughout Iran and Syria in the beginning of the 12th century. His community and its followers became known as Hashshashin, or Assassins.

Similar to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, Hasan-i-Sabah had a unified central command. He handpicked semiautonomous leaders to form a decentralized network of power. Each command had its own headquarters for local operations.

Legend has it he would have subjects drugged to simulate dying. Later, they would awaken in a garden where wine was served, with their pick of virgins.

The subjects thought they were in Heaven and Sabah was holy. They then felt obliged to follow his orders. This particular legend comes from Marco Polo who visited Sabah’s mountain castle at Alamut in the Elburz Mountains.

“The patriotism and religious fervor of the average Nizari [or Hasan-i-Sabah’s] soldier made him a fierce and enthusiastic warrior,” according to James Wasserman’s book, “The Templars and the Assassins, The Militia of Heaven.”

“The tradition that the glorious death in battle was a direct means of entering Paradise had been a tenet of Islam since the military campaigns of the Prophet [Mohammed],” Mr. Wasserman wrote. “The natural hierarchical obedience of the Nizaris allowed their armies to develop a high level of military prowess throughout all their scattered territories.”

An example came in 1093 when Hasan-i-Sabah’s military forces defeated a Sunni army of some 10,000 in the Battle of Rayy.

The Christian counterpart to the Assassins was the Crusaders’ Templars, defenders of Christianity in taking back Jerusalem initially in 1095. Ironically, the Assassins, who were Shi’ites, often would side with Crusaders against the Sunnis.

But the Crusaders lost Jerusalem to the Shi’ite Saladin in 1187. Saladin, a Kurd, was born in Tikrit near the Tigris River in the present Iraq. After retaking Jerusalem, he signed the Peace of Ramla with King Richard the Lion-Hearted in 1192.

Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands until the mid-20th century when Israel took back Jerusalem and made the city its capital.

Consequently, an event some 800 years ago has implications in today’s volatile Middle East politics. Hezbollah and al Qaeda regard Israel’s presence in Jerusalem as a foreign occupation of one of Islam’s three most holy cities. Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia are the other two holy cities. For al Qaeda, U.S. forces or Crusaders in Saudi Arabia also constitute foreign occupation by “infidels” where Mecca and Medina are located.

It isn’t any wonder bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, continuously refer to the West as the “Crusaders.”

In fact, bin Laden and al Zawahiri in February 1998 created the International Islamic Front for the Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. This is a group of some 50 Sunni and Shi’ite terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, united under one umbrella to wage a jihad, or holy war, against the West.

For the United States and its allies, it is essential we know history to avoid being condemned to relive it. It may well be the al Qaeda and Hezbollah leadership consider themselves the modern version of the Assassins.

In effect, these contemporary radical Muslims may well continue an almost 1,000-year-old conflict. Yet, the current approach to the U.S. war against terror may head in a direction that could inadvertently extend this age-old religious conflict.

To reverse this trend, a fundamental change in the war against terror may call for more aggressive special operations to pinpoint and eliminate critical chokepoints of identifiable terrorist groups anywhere in the world.

Without fundamental change, the current war on terror could play into the overall strategy of al Qaeda and Hezbollah to pursue their goal of a worldwide Muslim rising against the West.

F. Michael Maloof is a former senior analyst with the Defense Department. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, he was involved in determining linkages of terrorist groups worldwide and their relationship to state sponsors for the Office of the Defense Secretary.

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