Counter-Terrorism: The Hit List


June 19, 2010: The Yemeni government revealed that it had captured an al Qaeda hit list, naming 40 political and military officials the terrorist groups wanted dead. The government added that 95 percent of the people on the list had been murdered in the last three years. Critics charged the government with inventing the list, to generate more popular support for efforts to destroy al Qaeda in Yemen. Some of those critics believed that al Qaeda was not powerful enough to kill that many people on a specific list. But all agreed that the 37 dead officials were, indeed, dead.

Al Qaeda does not publish their hit lists, lest those on it increase their security. But such lists do exist, and have been captured in the past, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. And when that happens, security is increased and lives are saved. And everyone knows that al Qaeda means ruthless terror directed against all who oppose them. This involves kidnappings, beatings and threats of worse, in addition to murder.

Islamic terrorism is an ancient problem, which is an important point to remember whenever one contemplates the current outbreak, where it came from, and how to deal with it. How ancient is Islamic terrorism? Well, consider that the word "assassin" comes from a group of very successful Islamic terrorists who existed a thousand years ago, who used drugs (hashish) to give suicide assassins a taste of paradise before sending them out on missions that would get them killed. These guys were called "hashish eaters", and that word, when picked up by English speakers, emphasized the murder aspect, and was mispronounced as "assassin".

This radical Islamic sect was established in the 11th century in modern day Iran. Hasan, the founder, was the son of a noble family. He had a grudge and a genius for organization and persuasion. Using religion, sex and drugs (a formidable combination), capable young men were persuaded to become assassins. But these killers, unlike your average medieval hit man, were not bothered about being killed in the act (because they were convinced of a heavily reward). And this made the "ashishin" (from "users of hashish") not just killers, but highly effective terrorists.

The sect maintained a number of mountain fortresses and over the two centuries it existed, came to control considerable territory in Iran and Syria. Terror was its main weapon, for its assassins were known to be virtually unstoppable. Finally, in the 13th century, Mongol and Arab armies went after the "assassins," destroyed their castles and killed their leaders. The sect continued as a religious organization, but gave up the use of assassination and terror. Some 150,000 sect members still live in the Middle East, where the methods of the medieval suicide terrorists continue to be practiced by other groups.

Unlike Hasan's followers, al Qaeda has not yet been able to establish fortresses and a kingdom you could attack and destroy. It's not for want of trying. Four years ago, al Qaeda declared that they had established such a kingdom (or "Caliphate") in Iraq. That did not work out. Nor did their collaboration with the Taliban in the late 1990s, which briefly turned most of Afghanistan into a haven for Islamic terrorists. It wasn't the United States that destroyed that terrorist state, but American aid (300 Special Forces and CIA operators, and a few thousand smart bombs) that enabled the local opposition to destroy Taliban and al Qaeda power.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban stick with terror not because of religious conviction, but because they see the Moslem governments they hate the most (all of them) run by despots who use state sanctioned terror to stay in power. The problem is, this approach only works if you have established a state. Iran has one, which most Iranians oppose, as does Sudan, which is torn apart by rebellions. In short, al Qaeda and the Taliban lack a successful model to emulate. This is generally ignored by Islamic terrorists. And because of that, this pattern of failure will not go away. It is there, and it is, more than anything else, the future of Islamic radical movements.





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