When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

The Iran-Syria Axis of Assassins Dating From Medieval Times

Masyaf Castle in Syria
Masyaf Castle in Syria
Berthold Seewald

Early August, Syria's rebels kidnapped 48 Iranian pilgrims in Damascus. The rebels claimed their prisoners were not pilgrims but in fact elite Iranian soldiers sent by Teheran to support the Assad government. A murderous sect known as the Assassins had a similar Iran-Syria partnership in the Middle Ages.

During the Middle Ages, the mountainous regions of Syria and Iran harbored the Ismailis, an esoteric Shi’a sect whose existence was marked by oppression and martyrdom. A radical branch known as the Assassins (Nizari Ismailis) were feared suicide attackers who terrorized the Muslim world from the 11th to the 13th centuries.

Although the Assassins are now considered predecessors of Islamic terrorists, the Christian Crusaders were lesser enemies to them than the Sunni principalities that they went after unrelentingly. Unlike “Twelvers” – the largest branch of Shi’a Muslims, who believe in 12 divinely ordained leaders, known as the Twelve Imams – the Ismailis, also known as the “Seveners,” believe that the true successor to the 6th Imam in 765 CE was not Musa al Kazim but his brother Ismail, and that the latter will return when the world ends.

When the Ismaili Fatimid Caliphate in Cairo – which lasted from 909 to 1171 – fell apart, the Ismailis were forced underground. And then in the Alborz Mountains of Iran a charismatic religious leader named Hassan-i Sabbah (around 1034-1124) spurred vengeance. From his fort of Alamut he developed a strategy of calculated terror that brought sudden death to sovereigns, princes, generals and governors, as British historian Bernard Lewis, author of a book on the Assassins, writes.

The bloody deeds of the individuals who carried out these killings were supposed to open a direct door to heaven for them, initiates and successful murderers who no longer had a future on Earth. Their fanatical leader was also a missionary and soon had a growing group of followers, primarily in Syria, where so many battles between Muslims and Christians played out.

Hassan-i Sabbah’s follower Rashid ad-Din Sinan (around 1133-1192), who was known as the Prince or Elder of the Mountain, began to terrorize Syria from his stronghold of Masyaf. While his name also became known in the West, most of his victims were among his Muslim neighbors.

It wasn’t until Masyaf Castle was surrendered to the Mongols in 1260 and then claimed by the Cairo Mamluks that the Assassins were wiped out.

Today, Aga Khan IV is the 49th Nizari Ismaili Imam, and the Ismailis are among the most tolerant and peaceful of Muslim sects. But in the ongoing Syrian uprising, the Damascus-Teheran axis of terror harks back to the medieval tradition of the Assassins.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


Livestream Shopping Is Huge In China — Will It Fly Elsewhere?

Streaming video channels that allows interactive home shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.

A A female volunteer promotes spring tea products via on-line live streaming on a pretty mountain surrounded by tea plants.

In Beijing, selling spring tea products via on-line live streaming.

Xinhua / ZUMA
Gwendolyn Ledger

SANTIAGOTikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short viral videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.

Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.

This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.

Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher conversion rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.

Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest