Culture & Communications:

The Other bin Ladens: The Old Men on the Mountain Training Assassins

By Dr. Andreas Eppink

This paper is the fifth of an on-going series of selected chapters excerpted from Dr. Eppink's upcoming book, "Hidden Goals in Modern Globalizing Culture", and is herein offered in conjunction to an earlier paper by Dr. Eppink, Cross-Cultural Communication in the Age of Globalization, which appeared in the January-February 2002 issue of this Journal.  (For Parts I-IV of Dr. Eppink's Introduction, please refer to Modern Globalizing Culture - July-August 2002 Issue, Modern Globalizing Culture Part II - September-October 2002 Issue, Modern Globalizing Culture Part III - November-December 2002 Issue, and Modern Globalizing Culture Part IV - January-February 2003 Issue). Of note: Dr. Eppink presented his insights on Modern Globalizing Culture during his presentation as Closing Speaker at the 2002 International Congress of the BWW Society in Saint Germain-en-Laye, August 2002 (see: congress/2002/ ).

In the time of the Crusaders[1], in areas such as Spanish al-Andalous, Muslim rulers collaborated with Crusader lords against other Muslim rulers, and Christians allied with Muslims in the hope of throwing out the Crusaders.

The very erudite thinker and poet Hassan as-Sabbah, born in 1048 near what was to become the city of Teheran, founded a religious-political organization, or better said a movement, against the (or so he thought) unorthodox (Sunni) Seljuk rulers.[2] As-Sabbah, whose name is also known as Hassan ibn-Sabbah, took refuge in -- then Shiite -- Egypt and befriended himself with the son of the caliph, but had to flee after the to-be caliph was imprisoned (and later died).

In the meantime he had organized fedais, suicide commandos, consisting of zealous, indoctrinated and military trained young men, who slavishly obeyed the demands of their superiors. These superiors themselves were organized according to the degree of their initiation in ‘higher wisdom’. The fedais lived inconspicuously, and mostly in disguise, until they received an order to act. Then they operated alone or in very small groups to execute the murder as commanded. Their targets were high officials, and the murder had to take place in a spectacular way, preferentially in a public place such as the public market or the mosque -- during the Friday prayer -- to be attended by as many spectators as possible.

Of course, those who executed the killings were well aware that they would be captured and would eventually be killed themselves. But not all of the disciples were --nor did they need to -- be killers; for besides killers, there were also the preachers.

The Assassin tactics were usually to place adherents in crucial posts, often as advisers of governmental rulers, with the principal objective to spy and to create dissent. Preachers in disguise had to infiltrate Muslim schools and other circles. Their task was the recruitment of young men for further education in training camps in the mountains.

Similarly, bin Laden had his followers thoroughly trained by the al Qaeda -- his terrorist organization -- and taught a variety of dissimulation, such as how to hide from the police, how to lie to authorities in case of arrest or interrogation, and how to cover all of this with a well-furnished cover story.

It is clear where the bin Laden concept comes from. Indoctrination, military training, infiltration, murder, suicide -- and, in particular, publicity -- are the ingredients. Staggering murders had to convince both friend and enemy of the weakness of attacked and the power of the attacker. The attack on the Twin Towers would have pleased Hassan as-Sabbah as the ultimate perfection of his concept.

As-Sabbah’s first dubious ‘success’ occurred in 1092, when a fedai commando murdered the most influential minister of the Seljuk leadership, at the zenith of Seljuk power. His death was, according to ancient Arab historians, the beginning of Seljuk decline.

No one will doubt bin Laden had the same aspirations concerning the American president (Clinton) and American power, as he wrote: “….asking about the most important act of killing that should be induced on the enemy. That is the killing of the pharaoh . . .  the leader of the unbelievers (Mushrikeen)…”.

As naïve as it sounds and as dangerous as these killings were, the objective was to enable As-Sabbah to bring people to the true Islam -- the same motivation we see today with the al Qaeda. In a videotaped reaction after the events of September 11th bin Laden states: “It is above all what the media said. Some of them said that in Holland, at one of the centers, the number of people who accepted Islam during the days that followed the operations were more than the people who accepted Islam in the last eleven years. I heard someone on Islamic radio who owns a school in America say: ‘We don't have time to keep up with the demands of those who are asking about Islamic books to learn about Islam.’ This event made people think (about true Islam) which benefited Islam greatly.”

And he really believes his own restricted truth. Checking the facts on the events in Holland, nothing more could be found other than the rebuke mentioned in the newspapers of some rebellious Muslim boys calling provocative pro-bin Laden slogans in the streets. Bin Laden thinks and reacts like these boys, in a naïve and childish manner. Like As-Sabbah, however, he knows only too well that young boys and distressed youths make the fiercest warriors. Among young boys -- and distressed youths of both sexes -- the combination of Ambition with the three obstructing Hidden Goals (Approbation, Inviolability, Instant-Gratification) is often predominant. They can easily be indoctrinated in “great perseverance, enthusiasm, courage and pride for the religion of Allah”. Or for whatever other ideas. According to the Catholic Salesian fathers who focused their teaching program -- educating ‘virtue’ -- on boys.

Bin Laden declares: “I have a very important message to the youths of Islam . . .” giving examples of how in the past “the perseverance and the enthusiasm” of  “youths of young age” [a direct translation of bin Laden’s redundant phrasing] can be guided to kill an enemy. In these examples proud youths are boasting: “I swear by Allah if I see him (i.e. the enemy) I'll not let my shadow . . . depart from his shadow until one of us is dead".

By frequently referring to Muslims being subjected to “degradation” and “aggression, humiliation and indignation” the obstructing HG Inviolability becomes clear. Bin Laden feels hurt and wants to be untouchable. All his thoughts are concentrated on the “disgrace . . . impotence and weaknesses”, and the “disappointment, humiliation, defeat” suffered by Muslims or to be suffered by the Western world. It is clear his preoccupation is shame -- or loss of honor -- a well-known cultural concept, that combines the obstructing HGs Approbation and Inviolability: the wish to defend your honor and to revenge shame. From a psychological point of view this proves Laden is a very frustrated man who never surpassed those obstructing hidden goals, thus making him -- in combination with his evident intelligence -- a very dangerous man. To call him and his al Qaeda members ‘coward terrorists' -- as the former American defense secretary and many others have -- is, however, far from the truth. This precept presumes that someone who kills innocent people is a coward, which is in line with the romantic hero concept of Medieval knights defending defenseless women and children (which these knights seldom did).  Quite rightly, bin Laden counterattacks: “I say to you William (defense secretary) that: These youths love death as you love life. They inherit dignity, pride, courage, generosity, truthfulness and sacrifice from father to father. They are most delivering [bin Laden means probably “promising”] and steadfast at war. They inherit these values from their ancestors.. They know that the Muslims of the world will assist and help them to victory.”

Words, indeed, with which many in the Muslim world will agree.

“Without shedding blood, no degradation and branding can be removed from the forehead.”, and “Our women bemoan only fighters in the cause of Allah, as said: Death is better than life in humiliation! Some scandals and shames will never be otherwise eradicated.” (The italics within these quotations and the quotation in the following paragraph are mine, thus indicating expressions which reveal obstructing HGs). These quotations are from bin Laden's message in February 1998[3].

In this message, entitled “A martyr will not feel the pain of death”, the obstructing HG Inviolability is especially focused upon, as a defense against the fear of not obtaining Approbation. Many other quotations also reveal this fear.

Although the next list of quotations is long, it is only an excerpt from a large recital, from which it was difficult to make a selection:

“Our youths believe in paradise after death. They believe that taking part in fighting will not bring their day nearer; and staying behind will not postpone their day either.”

“He (God) guards you, guard (the cause of) Allah, then He will be with you … and if they gathered to harm you they will not harm you except with what has been determined for you by Allah;”

“Our youths took note of the meaning of the poetic verse: ‘If death is a predetermined must, then it is a shame to die cowardly.´, and another poet saying: "[those] Who do not die by the sword will die by other reason; many causes are there but one death.’

“These youths know that: if one is not to be killed one will die (anyway) and the most honorable death is to be killed in the way of Allah.”

“The best of the martyrs are those who do NOT turn their faces away from the battle till they are killed. They are in the high level of Jannah (paradise). Their Lord laughs to them (in pleasure) and when your Lord laughs to a slave of His, He will not hold him to an account”.

“A martyr will not feel the pain of death except like how you feel when you are pinched".

"A martyr . . . will be shown his seat in paradise, he will be decorated with the jewels of belief (Imaan), married off to the beautiful ones, protected from the test in the grave, assured security in the day of judgment, crowned with the crown of dignity, a ruby of which is better than this whole world and it's entire content, wedded to seventy-two of the pure Houries (beautiful ones of Paradise) and his intercession on the behalf of seventy of his relatives will be accepted". (Next to Inviolability and Approbation, here we can also discern an allusion to Instant-Gratification.)

“[The women] motivated and encouraged their sons, brothers and husbands to fight -- in the cause of Allah . . . Our women weep not, except over men who fight in the cause of Allah; our women instigate their brothers to fight in the cause of Allah.” [Approbation of the family].

“Our youths chanting and reciting the word of Allah, the most exalted: “fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands and bring them to disgrace, and assist you against them and heal the heart of a believing people.” Those youths know that their rewards in fighting you, the USA, is double . . . their rewards in fighting someone else . . . They have no intention except to enter paradise by killing you … The youths also reciting the All Mighty words of: ‘so when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks...’ Those youths will not ask you (the former American defense secretary) for explanations, they will tell you singing there is nothing between us needs to be explained, there is only killing and neck smiting [Laden’s words].”

"I swear by Him, who has my soul in His hand, that no man gets killed [i.e.: any man who gets killed] fighting them today, patiently attacking and not retreating, surely Allah will let him into paradise".

Paradise is the ultimate Approbation of the believer who has done his “duty”, another indoctrinating term frequently used by Bin Laden. Indoctrination it is. And it works for “idealistic” (young) people longing for recognition and a sense of identity.

To many readers the quoted passages may seem without any conviction, even ridiculous. However for people stuck in obstructing HGs, and brought up in the Muslim culture, they can have dangerous effects. In Khomeyni’s Iran the same indoctrination was used on (very) young soldiers to fight against Iraq in the 1980s, and on their parents -- the mothers included -- to proudly part with their sons. Especially in the Shiite counties there is a long tradition of sacrifice induced by indoctrination.

Hostile yelling has the effect of reinforcing courage, chanting and singing such verses as quoted above can have the same effect.

Similar methods of indoctrination had been adopted earlier by Hassan as-Sabbah, the predecessor of bin Laden and the example with which we started this chapter. The parallels between the two are striking.

The Men of the Mountain: bin Laden’s Predecessors

As-Sabbah left his native country for Egypt, and subsequently had to flee from there to a safer place in the mountains near the Caspian Sea (modern Iran’s border). Bin Laden came to Sudan from Saudi Arabia, and then fled into the Afghan mountains. Both As-Sabbah and bin Laden created a safe, impregnable place -- the first in the mountain fortress of Alamut, the “Eagle’s Nest” -- the second in the cave complex of Tora Bora -- from which they conceived and trained their murder-suicide commandos.

Al Qaeda’s Eagle’s Nest was situated near the east Afghan frontier with Pakistan. In the press it became known as the caves of Tora Bora, named after the only village in the surrounding area. The fort complex, surrounded by the 4000 meter-high peaks of the White Mountains, contained numerous tunnels and rooms -- space for 1000 men -- well equipped with communications, ventilation, air-conditioning, central heating, and electricity generated by mountain streams. A modern complex, constructed in the 1980's by the Afghan Mujaheddeen (“warriors”) with financial support of the US CIA and Pakistan, this fortress was one of the main assets of the Taliban in their Jihad against the unbelievers (Mushrikeen): the Russian communists. (These facts illustrate how imprudent it is to depend on allies who follow obstructing goals.).

The relationship between bin Laden and the very orthodox Muslims had its roots in their common belief in a radical Islam and their anti-Western views. This was the common basis between bin Laden and the Afghan Taliban, as it was between Bin Laden and the blind Egyptian sheik Abdel Rahman, who is the father of one of the al Qaeda leaders and the spiritual father of terrorist activities such as the first bomb attack on the New York WTC, for which he received a life sentence in 1995.

Bin Laden’s predecessor, As-Sabbah, became the first ‘Old Man of the Mountain’. His prime objective was to create a fearsome reputation by the murders committed by his adherents, about whom many legends have been created. Because of their use of hashish they became known as ‘Hashihin’, from which in Europe the word ‘assassin’ was derived. It is a guess if hashish was used -- as it is a guess if opium was used by the al Qaeda in Afghanistan -- to provide the true believers with a sense of paradise, or to facilitate indoctrination, or even to facilitate the murdering of oneself.


The use of drugs, forbidden by Islam, may seem rather unorthodox but here we approach one of the essential characteristics of the Assassin sect, and perhaps those of al Qaeda: dissimulation. “Permissible dissimulation” or Concealment (taqqiya) was accepted by orthodox Shiites when they posed as Sunnites to escape persecution. As-Sabbah gave the concept a new meaning.

As it is said, As-Sabbah was very intelligent and lettered, a mystic who after much study came to the conclusion that the Koran verses should not be interpreted to the letter, but rather that they actually contained veiled messages. Like many Muslim mystics, mostly called Sufis, he believed the (orthodox) Law (shariah) was only meant for those on the first step of the ladder of spiritual enlightenment. To become enlightened one had to go the Spiritual Path (tariqah). Beyond shariah and tariqah there was ultimate Reality (haqiqah), which is God himself. This thinking dictated its own path, for those who knew haqiqah Law no longer needed to face common reality, nor did they balance their version of reality with common sense. Moreover, the Christian apostle Paul taught the abrogation of Jewish law that no longer makes sense for those who had become Christians, because “for those who are pure, everything is pure”. As-Sabbah accepted the utmost consequences of this idea: in this unreal world, hidden under the veil of illusion, for the ‘pure’ everything is permitted, even dissimulation and murder.

Here we see also the utmost consequences of the obstructing HG Inviolability in the psyche of a very clever man.

This revelation makes other things understandable. Of course the doctrine of the abrogation of Law would never be acceptable for those who were not ‘initiated’ in the minds of the Assassins, with the uninitiated including the Muslim majority. Thus, awaiting the advent of a new spiritual kingdom on earth, the initiated Assassins had to pose as orthodox Muslims. Throughout history the same Messianic mission is revived again and again, in the cases of the Jewish Messiah, the return of Jesus Christ on earth, the Muslim Mahdi, and the Perfect Man (Imam) in Ismailism in which the Assassins have their origins. However, to prepare the advent of their messiah, not all prophets tolerated the same extreme means as As-Sabbah or bin Laden, certainly not dissimulation.

The very orthodox Taliban accepted US aid to fight the Soviets, and for that purpose, to construct the caves and tunnels of Tora Bora. They became bin Laden’s partners, while in the meantime bin Laden reproached the Saudis for their being protected by American troops. Indeed, bin Laden was an opportunist, but it has to be understood why, how, and under what circumstances. As to dissimulation, we can now understand that men like As-Sabbah and Bin Laden are unpredictable. The last Assassins even offered to become Christians in exchange for protection by the Christian Templars! (The Templars however refused, because Christians had to pay less in taxes than Muslims; so after due calculation they decided the Assassins had to remain Muslim.).

The intriguing documentary about one of the pilots who executed the September 11th kamikaze flights, the son of a well-to-do Lebanese family, presented the image of a nice young man, always friendly, helpful to the elderly and the handicapped, loved by his Western study friends in Germany and by his colleagues and teachers at the flying school in Florida. Nobody suspected anything, not his Turkish fiancée in Germany with whom he was very much in love, nor his landlady who considered him almost a family member. Everybody thought him timid and absolutely nonviolent. And so he was. He is an example of what I referred to as the depressive and distressed idealist who can be enlisted and indoctrinated as a terrorist by dangerous leaders. Bin-Laden’s own words are revealing: “Those (indoctrinated) youths who conducted the operations…. They are just accepting what is being said at face value….. The brothers, who conducted the operation, all they knew was that they have a martyrdom operation and we asked each of them to go to America but they didn't know anything about the operation, not even one letter. But they were trained and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before they boarded the planes. …. Those who were trained to fly didn't know the others. One group of people did not know the other group.”[4]

Murderers and Terrorists

As a forensic court psychologist, I have spoken at large with many Muslims who were murder suspects or suspected of other crimes. Some were ‘true believers’ who really believed their acts were praiseworthy in the eyes of God, others were convinced their deeds where fully in harmony with their code of Honor, and still others were mere opportunists centered on their own Glory. Although their interpretations of their actions were different, all followed the same HGs.

We can expect the same regarding terrorists; in some cases, if the  ‘true believers’ are nationalists[5], we have to change the words “praiseworthy in the eyes of God” into “praiseworthy in the eyes of my people”. The wish for Approbation is alike.


For certain terrorists Islam is just a disguise to realize idiosyncratic needs of Approbation combined with Instant-Gratification. Therefore it is not strange that some terrorists were reported drinking alcohol and visiting bars, such as Ramzi Yousef, who in 1993 put the first bombs below the World Trade Center in New York (and who is now in a super maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado). He is not the stereotype of a religious fanatic; he liked bars, striptease clubs, karaoke, and especially sex, even with married women. He too was useful as an contemporaneous assassin, and after his training -- which was probably conducted in one of Bin Laden’s camps[6] as he lived some time in the Pakistan frontier town of Peshawar in bin Laden’s “House of Martyrs” -- Yousef came to the U.S. to kill as many Americans as possible, for his own megalomaniacal Glory: “I’m a terrorist, and proud of it.” Now very proud of his ‘success’, his onetime ambition was to kill Pope John Paul and President Clinton at the same meeting. A spectacular deed of which As-Sabbah would have very much approved.

Motivated by a different obstructing HG, Inviolability, the blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman can be considered a true believer, sincere in his beliefs, however abject his purposes may be. That is the problem with many “true believers”: their delusive ideas of “Inviolability” make them think that all that they do is right and God pleasing.

Whatever their motives may be, all are indoctrinated either to kill or to indoctrinate others to kill. Together, these people with different religious and personal motives but all following the same obstructing HG's, form the terrorist cells such as those which plan and conduct terrorist operations like that on the WTC.

We can expect terrorist actions from the camps of mystic law-abolitionists, nationalists, certain spiritual orthodox leaders, fanatic fundamentalists (also called radicals, extremists, and militant or radical fundamentalists), or from opportunist followers, as examples in this and the previous chapters have shown. Their common characteristics are obstructing HG’s, especially Approbation and Inviolability, disclosed by their utterances containing shame, wrath, revenge, megalomaniacal glory, or their spates of complaining and self-pity.

Underground Movement

The reader may be interested to know how the Assassins met their end. It seems a continuous story; but in reality much is legend. The truth is that although a number of the descendants of the first Assassin sect members became quiet peasants, the underground movement spread for 160 years. After Hassan as-Sabbah died, a second ‘Old Man of the Mountain’ succeeded him, and after him yet a third became the ruler of Alamut (the Eagle’s Nest), which by then was essentially an independent state. One hundred years after the teachings of Hassan as-Sabbah, the son of the third ‘Old Man of the Mountain’ proclaimed the definitive abrogation of the Law in the middle of the Ramadan month of fasting; in doing so he ‘lifted the veil of Concealment’, and declared that earth was the paradise where everything was allowed. He was poisoned soon thereafter.

The last ‘famous’ events of the Assassins were two assaults on the prestigious Seljuk Sultan Saladin, who later recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders. The attacks of 1174 and 1175 nearly succeeded. In vain, Saladin made attempts to annihilate the Assassins, then, suddenly, he changed his mind and tried to make them his collaborators, after which the true facts are confused by a variety of different and mysterious legends.

Nevertheless, the murders directed from the Eagle’s Nest continued until the Mongol invaders destroyed the dream of the ‘Old Man of the Mountain’ and his fortress some 80 years later. (Thereafter, his followers retained only political aspirations and founded the dynasty of the Ismaelis, among whose direct descendants is the actual Agha Khan.)

The important reason for mentioning the Assassins is that this sect demonstrates how a certain continuity can be obtained by religious or nationalist movements such as the al Qaeda or ETA[7]. But beyond ‘continuity’ we should speak of a continuous cycle of revival, although the motives behind both and the effects of both are the same.

The Assassin organization was, like bin Laden’s, mainly an underground movement. As said, dissimulation, infiltration, and spectacular murder-for-publicity were its main tactics.

Our primary lesson from looking at the Assassins illustrates to us that the death of a leader is not always the end of a movement. Underground activities and a revival of the same ideas, rooted in obstructing HG’s, can maintain a continuous story of terror.

About the Author: BWW Society Member Dr. Andreas Eppink received his Doctorate degree in Social Sciences in 1977 from the University of Amsterdam, went on to study Clinical Psychology, and was officially registered as a Psychotherapist. He has worked as a Management Consultant, especially in the television, advertising, daily press, family business, transport, and public administration sectors, including work with the town of Maastricht. Prior to this, as an Anthropologist specializing in the study of culture, Dr. Eppink was a pioneer in the field of migration study, in particular mental health and occupation. In 1971 he founded the Averroes Foundation for the study of these areas. He headed this institute from 1978 to 1983, as it then became state run. He was an intergovernmental expert of the European Committee for Migration in Geneva, a member of the Board of Advisors to the Dutch Minister of the Interior, and an expert with different European committees in Strasbourg and Brussels. Dr. Eppink speaks five languages and reads several more.


[1] The Crusaders seized Jerusalem from Muslim control in 1099 and were driven out by Muslim armies in 1187.

[2] Hassan as-Sabbah’s father was an initiate of the moderate sect of the Imamits, also called the Twelvers, because they believed in a mysterious return of the eleventh and last descendent of Ali, as the Mahdi, the ‘hidden Imam’, or messiah; as-Sabbah himself had been an adept of the ultra-Shiite sect of Batinis, who later had merged with the Ismaelis. As-Sabbah declared himself a follower of the Batini ruler, a kind of brigand-king who had occupied different fortresses in Persia.

[3] 23 February 1998 by Shaykh Usamah Bin-Muhammad Bin-Ladin Ayman al-Zawahiri, amir of the Jihad Group in Egypt, Abu-Yasir Rifa'i Ahmad Taha, Egyptian Islamic Group, Shaykh Mir Hamzah, secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan, Fazlul Rahman, amir of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh.

[4] Translated videotape transcription, published by The Washington Post.

[5] E.g. the Bask Eta-terrorists in Spain.

[6] However, Iraq expert  Laurie Mylroie believes Yousef is an Sadam Hussein's agent.

[7] The ETA is a separatist, nationalist terror organization in Spain that wants the Bask Land independent from Spain. In the last decennia hundreds of innocent people in Spain have been killed or wounded by ETA terror acts, most car bombs.

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