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Wolves, Jackals, and Foxes

The Assassins Who Changed History

by Kris Hollington

Hardcover, 426 pages, St Martins Pr, List Price: $25.95 |


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The Assassins Who Changed History
Kris Hollington

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Book Summary

Evaluates the ways in which the assassinations of key historical figures have shaped the modern world, in an account that also shares such lesser-known stories as the role of a rabid swamp rabbit in saving the life of Jimmy Carter and the orchestrations of a secret southern society in enabling the freedom of racist assassins. 15,000 first printing.

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Excerpt: Wolves, Jackals, And Foxes


On the day this introduction was written a senior Georgian politician was blown to smithereens by a car bomb, a popular Shia cleric in Pakistan was stabbed and shot to death, a senior member of the National Union of Mineworkers in Cape Town was beaten and then executed by a single gunshot to the head, Sri Lanka’s third-highest-ranking general was blasted at point-blank range by a man wielding a home-made sawn-off shotgun and a ‘protected’ witness about to give evidence against those accused of the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was found dead in a side street with his throat slit. In other assassination news a former MI6 agent who claimed that Princess Diana was assassinated was arrested, there was a demand for a new inquiry into the 1993 slaying of South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, an apology from a Tamil Tiger leader for the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, it was revealed that the current ruler of Iran was once a professional assassin, and Papua New Guinea’s police released the details of a plot to assassinate the country’s president. There was nothing particularly special about this day: just another typical twenty-four hours in world affairs.

Assassination is an often-employed tool used by governments, terrorist groups and lone crackpots; its effectiveness and sizeable role in everyday world affairs remains largely underestimated. Between 1950 and 2000, over four thousand assassinations have played a defining role in most of the world’s key events. Assassination has been used in attempts to change the regimes of the Philippines, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, China, Russia, America, Spain, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, India, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and South Africa – to name but a few (and in many cases more than once). Assassination has also played a role in German reunification; the collapse of Communism; the ending of apartheid in South Africa; the fight over Northern Ireland; the American Civil Rights Movement; the campaigns for democracy in Poland and Bulgaria; the nuclear arms race; various countries’ battles against organised crime; and, in one instance, an assassination sparked the worst genocide since the Holocaust. Assassinations have featured in, started, ended, shortened or prolonged dozens of wars including those fought in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Algeria, the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, and most of the South American countries as well as Russia and the former Soviet states. As this book will show, politics involves a lot more dagger – as distinct from cloak – than most politicians will admit.

Before going any further, it is of course necessary to define the act of ‘assassination’. The word ‘assassination’ is straightforward enough. It derives from the name of the Hashishin, a secretive Iranian sect that existed between 1090 and 1256 in the Elburz Mountains of north-west Iran, just south of the Caspian Sea. They pioneered the use of selective murder instead of war to acquire wealth and power. They did not take hashish before murdering someone as many have written. (Some scholars have speculated that Hashishin means ‘hashish eater’ but eating hashish leads to confusion, forgetfulness, in some cases paranoia and the removal of violent tendencies – not a good idea if you’re planning to sneak into an enemy fortress, creep past the guards, silently murder your victim and escape back to your hideout six thousand feet up a mountain.)

As for the act of assassination, this occurs when someone important is murdered for one of three reasons:

1. Political beliefs: the killing of an enemy in the expectation that their policies will die with them. US President Dwight Eisenhower believed (correctly) that if the nationalist Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba ‘fell into a river full of crocodiles’ that his mineral-rich country would revert to the control of Europe an colonialists and big business.

2. Power: committed simply to take the place of a VIP, or to transfer their power to someone else. As international terrorist Carlos the Jackal put it: ‘To get anywhere, you have to walk over corpses.’

3. Notoriety: disturbed individuals who want to achieve fame through the elimination of a VIP. Sirhan Sirhan told his interrogators: ‘They can gas me, but I am famous; I have achieved in one day what it took Robert Kennedy all his life to do.’

The motive of the assassin is almost never personal: they are killing what the target represents, be it their power or fame, ideology, religious practice or economic system. The victim may be killed by a variety of means; anything from exploding clams to poisoned toilet paper, from guided missiles to falling lifts, involving a planned – or occasionally unplanned – violent or subtle surprise attack. The attack may sometimes, however, take the form of an abuse of the justice system – beginning with a false accusation and leading to a speedy conviction and execution, as happened to Lavrenti Beria, Chief of the Soviet Police, himself an expert assassin and master of the cover-up, who once boasted: ‘Any fool can commit a murder, but only an artist can make murder look like suicide.’

Assassins can be divided into two groups, professional and amateur. In the 1970s, the CIA produced a remarkable book called How to Kill which provided guidelines for agents training to be professional assassins. (Naturally, the KGB produced their own version, The KGB Alpha Team Training Manual.) It states: ‘The will to kill, the complete lack of sympathy and compassion, and no hesitation in killing the subject, is paramount. You must take his life as detachedly as you might swat a fly or crush an ant... the morally squeamish should not attempt it.’ This statement makes clear the difference between the two groups. While the professional is usually a calm psychopathic killer who murders for money, the amateur is typically an emotional character whose will to kill is driven by passion.

The professional assassin holds immense psychological power. A former American army sniper who worked for the CIA in the 1990s understood this perfectly: ‘There’s a moment when you have a man dead in your sights, when you decide whether or not to pull the trigger. It’s like being God. They don’t even know you’re there. That’s real power.’

The professional hit man commands a tremendous amount of respect brought about by people’s fear of what he is capable of doing. There is something very unsettling about meeting a man who kills for money and knowing that if someone paid him enough, he’d kill you. A London-based hit man described the reaction of fellow criminals when they learned who he was: ‘They change. They respect you but at the same time they’re afraid. They have this picture of you as this cold-blooded killer who never smiles. Even when you do smile they see it differently. I guess they can’t get over the image they have of you squeezing the trigger on some poor, hopeless bastard who doesn’t have a chance... they know that one day it might be them.’

These professionals may be lone wolves or jackals working as part of a pack. They kill for money, for power, because they’re ordered to, or because they believe they have to (and various combinations thereof). What defines them from the amateur is that for them, assassination is a career choice, a job that needs to be done professionally, dispassionately.

The amateurs, the foxes, are non-governmental untrained assassins; hot-blooded individuals driven by passionate beliefs (however misplaced), some of whom only discover they are ‘morally squeamish’ when they come face to face with their intended target. They are ordinary, unremarkable people, often failures: the antithesis of the men and women they try to kill. This is what makes the amateur assassin particularly unnerving. Anyone, absolutely any one, could wake up one morning and decide to do something extraordinary with their lives: to immortalise themselves and change the course of history.

It is quite remarkable just how many people actually take this step and the rise of the lone-nut assassin – the madmen and -women who kill for no reason other than a lust for notoriety – is almost exclusively a post-1960 phenomenon. These assassins toss bombs inexpertly, aim guns poorly or strike with a knife without any genuine knowledge of anatomy – whether their target lives or dies is down to chance.

For example, in 2005 twenty-seven-year-old Vladimir Arutyunian threw a live Russian-made RDG-5 hand grenade at President George W. Bush while the President was on a state visit to the former Soviet state of Georgia. It landed 18.6 metres from the President, well within its killing range of twenty-five metres. But when the assassin had pulled the pin, his scarf had become caught in the firing mechanism and it had failed to strike the fuse hard enough to ignite it. It was an extraordinarily close call.

When police searched Arutyunian’s mother’s garden shed they found a copy of The Day of the Jackal1 and enough chemicals and grenades to kill thousands of people. Arutyunian had links to Chechen rebels who were hiding out in a forbidding place called the Pankisi Gorge just one hundred miles east of Tblisi, a terrorist hot spot that has also played host to al-Qaeda. The Chechens were annoyed that the United States was sending its special forces to root them out of their hideouts and so Bush’s visit to Georgia seemed like an ideal chance to strike back. Had Vladimir Arutyunian succeeded, no doubt America’s War on Terror would have come to Georgia and, perhaps more worryingly, to Chechnya.

1Frederick Forsyth’s seminal assassination novel has been found in the possession of an extraordinary number of assassins – one group of Spanish terrorists even went to see the newly released film of the book a few days before they had a pop at the Prime Minister of Spain.

Incidentally, since Bush became President his elite protection officers, the Secret Service, have been kept very busy. In 1974 President Richard Nixon received three hundred death threats. In 2004, President George Bush received five hundred – a month. While playing a Presidential round of golf with his dad in 2005 at the world-famous Augusta course, Bush Jr’s face creased in a frown as he looked down the fairway to see dozens of Secret Service agents looking up trees, darting in and out of bushes, waving guns and hollering while pressing their earpieces. One man with a gun had been spotted wandering around checking out bunkers. ‘Amazing how this job follows you everywhere,’ Bush told reporters matter-of-factly before shouting ‘Fore!’ and teeing off.

Assassins do tend to study the assassination literature and, unbelievably, Paladin Press published a how-to guide in 1983. Hit Man: A Technical Manual for In de pen dent Contractors by Rex Feral was described as ‘a step-by-step murder manual, a training book for assassins’ by the US Circuit Court of Appeals shortly before they banned it in 1999. The book had checklists and related detailed killing techniques. It recommended particular weapons, had illustrative photographs, discussed surveillance, floor plans, chemical formulas, how to dispose of evidence, even how to mentally prepare yourself to kill. The one thing it didn’t tell you was to throw away the book after you had completed your hit. It was found in the possession of two murderers (one of whom killed an eight-year-old disabled boy, his carer and his mother for life-insurance money) who had used its ‘step-by-step’ instructions to the letter. The discovery of the book formed part of the prosecution case that saw them sent to death row (one can only wonder at how many others might have used the book successfully). Paladin Press were not too worried about the ban as their most popular publications such as Be Your Own Undertaker: How to Dispose of a Dead Body, Silencers for Hand Firearms and Contingency Cannibalism: Superhardcore Survivalism’s Dirty Little Secret are all still available and selling well.

This book is the first to study in detail not only the causes and surprising consequences of assassination but also the crucial seconds of the act itself and the psychology of the assassin in an effort to understand why some assassinations succeed where others fail – and what might be done to prevent them. It is also the first book to examine the fascinating facts and figures of assassination, revealing everything from the success rate by type of weapon and the escape and survival rates of assassins to the most popular time of year and location for assassination. For the first time, too, it provides the definitive answer to the most important question of all: Can one murder really change the world?

Excerpted from Wolves, Jackals, and Foxes by Kris Hollington

Copyright © 2008 by Kris Hollington

Published in 2008 by Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.