Author : Stephen Tankel

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Nov 05, 2019
How jihadists went ‘Glocal’ and what to do about it

Source Image: Getty Images

At its apotheosis, the Islamic State bridged the local and global divide more effectively than most violent extremist organisations — jihadist or otherwise — have ever done. Rather than mobilising “lone wolves,” it made individuals believe that they were not alone. They were actually part of a global community that was centered on, but not reducible to, the Islamic State’s physical caliphate, where the group engaged in rebel governance.<1> Although the Islamic State combined the physical control of territory where it provided goods and services with social media in ways no jihadist group had done before, its efforts in these areas were not sui generis.

Insurgent movements and violent extremist organisations have historically used propaganda, and many of them have engaged in rebel governance where possible. There is no reason to suspect that other non-state actors could not replicate the Islamic State’s success, or at least that they will not try to do so. This essay explores two inter-related areas: jihadist groups’ efforts to advance alternate governance mechanisms; and the ways in which new technologies have evolved to enable these organisations to pursue supporters both locally and globally.

Jihadist governance

The year 2011 looked to be particularly bad for the jihadist movement. Drone strikes were degrading al-Qaeda in Pakistan. Operatives who were not killed had to prioritise their survival over the ability to move around, communicate, or execute transnational attacks.<2> As a result, core al-Qaeda was on the ropes by the time US intelligence officers identified a compound in the upscale city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, as the place where Osama bin Laden might be hiding. Obama approved a high-risk raid by US Navy SEALs, and they killed the al-Qaeda leader on May 2, 2011, shortly after 1:00 a.m. local time. Information gathered during the raid enabled the United States to target additional high-ranking leaders with subsequent drone strikes.<3> Meanwhile, successful transitions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen seemingly undermined the jihadist narrative that violence was a necessary handmaiden for revolution or that the United States would always prop up autocratic regimes. The NATO-led intervention in Libya showed that the West would intervene to protect Muslim civilians.

Yet, far from being a death knell, revolutions across the Arab world reinvigorated jihadists and enabled a level of activity unforeseen hitherto.<4> The weakening or outright removal of police states created space for mobilisation in places where jihadists had previously had little room for maneuver. While many experts initially focused on how the Arab uprisings affected the jihadist narrative, jihadist leaders recognised the opportunities the revolutions presented. A week before his death, bin Laden referred to the uprisings as “a great and glorious event” and stressed the importance of winning new supporters through missionary outreach.<5> The deputy emir of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) encouraged jihadists to take advantage of the newly open environments to spread their ideas.<6>

This is precisely what they did. Jihadists in Egypt and Tunisia seized on their newfound operational freedom to organise and enlist supporters. The environment was even more open in Yemen, which was not a police state in the first place. Autocratic regimes in Libya and Syria deliberately facilitated jihadist mobilisation immediately after protests began in order to promote the narrative that they were fighting terrorism and to create conflict among various opposition groups.<7> This helped jihadists emerge as some of the most organised forces in post-Gaddafi Libya and in the escalating conflict in Syria.

Lasting democratic transitions and improved governance did not accompany the deterioration of police states. Tunisia was the only Sunni-majority Arab state where a democratic transition held.<8> And even there, the security situation deteriorated, contributing to a flow of foreign fighters to other conflict zones.<9> Egypt slipped back into autocracy when the military overthrew the democratically elected prime minister. The new military-backed regime soon faced an escalating jihadist insurgency. Libya, Mali, Syria, and Yemen descended into civil war.<10> In June 2014, the Islamic State, which had split from al-Qaeda earlier in the year, launched a major military offensive in Iraq that captured the country’s second largest city, Mosul. Afterwards, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s leader, announced the reestablishment of the caliphate, and declared himself the caliph.<11> Numerous jihadist groups —some of them previously loyal to al-Qaeda — offered their allegiance.

Jihadists had limited experience engaging in governance before the Arab uprisings. For example, the Egyptian Islamic Group controlled “liberated zones” in parts of Upper Egypt and Greater Cairo during the 1980s and into the early 1990, when it was at war with the state. The group simultaneously provided social services the government could not or would not provide, and engaged moral policing intended to purify the population.<12> In the decade after 9/11, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ran sharia courts in parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Northwest Frontier Province that were under its control.<13> After al-Shabaab in Somalia broke away from the Islamic Courts Union and grew into a full-fledged jihadist organisation that seized control of large swaths of territory, it dispensed justice in accordance with its interpretation of sharia and also provided limited social services.<14> Al-Qaeda in Iraq also enforced its harsh interpretation of Islamic law on territory it controlled before losing ground as a result of the Sunni Awakening and US military surge.

These limited experiences yielded valuable lessons, but jihadists also relied on the writings of the theoretician Abu Bakr Naji (the nom de guerre for Muhammad Khalil al-Hakaymah) when it came to seizing and governing territory after 2011. In The Management of Savagery, published almost a decade before the Arab uprisings, Naji laid out a three-step process for creating the caliphate.<15> First, Naji argued that “vexation strikes” were needed to draw the security forces away from certain areas in Muslim countries, and thus create the vacuums for jihadists to fill. Second, once jihadists had created chaos in these areas, they could fill the void by re-establishing order and imposing their version of Islamic law.<16> In practice, this meant providing internal security and social services, establishing sharia justice (including forcing lax Muslims to comply with authority), and spreading understanding of Islamic law.16 The idea was to create a network of like-minded Islamic emirates, or mini-states, which could be as small as a city or as large as a country. These emirates would communicate with one another, and coordinate to the degree possible on political, financial, and military matters. Finally, once an acceptable caliph arrived, these emirates would transition from a network of mini-states into a caliphate.

The collapse of police states and advent of civil wars after the Arab uprisings fast-tracked the process Naji had envisioned, and ushered in two important trends within the jihadist movement. The first was a return of locally focused jihadist violence in the heart of the Arab world. The most robust revolutionary jihads since 9/11 had been waged against countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia that previously supported or enabled jihadist groups. After the Arab uprisings, Arab states that had avoided or put down revolutionary challenges before 9/11 were forced to reckon with them. This renewed local emphasis was accented by the growing influence of sectarianism on jihadist agendas. The Islamic State inflamed and benefited from an increasingly bloody Sunni-Shi’a competition that infused other conflicts across the region. Second, jihadist organisations transformed into war-fighting militias that pursued state-building enterprises with greater sophistication. The Islamic State was the most successful group in terms of holding and administering territory. Its territory in Iraq and Syria formed the heart of the caliphate, but Baghdadi proclaimed he was the leader of all Muslims and his group soon began adding governorates in other countries. Some al-Qaeda affiliates simultaneously were declaring their own mini-emirates during this time in Mali and Yemen.

Ansar Al-Sharia branches signified both the local nature of jihadist activism after the Arab uprisings, and the fact that terrorism increasingly occupied just one part of a much larger jihadist portfolio.

New movements, which called themselves Ansar al-Sharia, also emerged in multiple places as vehicles for popular mobilisation. Ansar al-Sharia means “Partisans of Islamic law,” a name that emphasised the intention to establish Islamic states. Ansar al-Sharia branches effectively served as popular fronts that prioritised local agendas, used violence, preaching, and social services to achieve these goals, and attempted to engage in rudimentary state-building. AQAP created the first Ansar al-Sharia chapter in Yemen in 2009 as an insurgent force to capture territory and administer social services to the population.<17> Additional branches formed in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt during the Arab uprisings.<18> These were independent entities with loose ties, if any, to one another. They signified both the local nature of jihadist activism after the Arab uprisings, and the fact that terrorism increasingly occupied just one part of a much larger jihadist portfolio.

The Islamic State and al-Qaeda became competing lodestars in the jihadist movement. There were notable differences between the two groups, including in how they interpreted Naji’s theory of victory. First, Naji had envisioned the formation of the caliphate as a gradual process in which various emirates came together over time. Al-Qaeda leaders adhered to this vision, and believed it was necessary to build public support and make sure that suitable conditions existed before an Islamic state could be created.<19> Islamic State leaders did not. They wasted little time declaring a caliphate after seizing large swaths of territory in Iraq.

Second, having suffered serious damage to its brand because of the large number of Muslims killed in Iraq and subsequent Sunni Awakening, al-Qaeda leaders advocated a population-centric approach designed to win over locals.<20> Thus, AQ affiliates attempted to avoid killing innocent Muslims, and theoretically eschewed harsh treatment of the population on seized territory in favor of dawa and the provision of social services.<21> The Islamic State took a different tact. The group inflamed sectarian tensions to create chaos, and then governed through fear. It provided social services, but also practiced shocking brutality as a way to cow the local population and foster a perception of strength. And it was uncompromising when it came to implementing harsh interpretations of sharia.<22>

Because Naji recognised the need for manpower, he encouraged Muslims who lived in non-Muslims countries to immigrate, rather than remaining at home and conducting attacks. The Islamic State’s mastery of social media and declaration of a caliphate helped it to inspire thousands of foreign fighters, who flocked to its banner in Iraq and Syria.<23> This development was part of a larger trend: jihadists’ use of technology to reach global audiences to a greater degree than ever before.

Terrorists’ use of technology

In the Call for Global Islamic Resistance, Abu Musab al-Suri (born Mustafa bin Abd al-Qadir Setmariam Nasar) argued that his fellow jihadists should limit large-scale insurgences to a small number of Muslim countries, and otherwise focus on fomenting a leaderless jihad in non-Muslim states.<24> He believed that most jihadist organisations were not robust enough to withstand a serious counter-offensive. Inspiring attacks in non-Muslims countries was a way of rebuilding momentum. Because jihadist leaders could not provide direct guidance for specific operations, al-Suri also emphasised the importance of ideological indoctrination as a way to ensure at least some level of influence. New communications technologies have not only enabled jihadists to inspire individuals in non-Muslim countries, but also to provide them direct guidance in some instances. This has collapsed the space between the global and the local, helping to make al-Suri’s strategic theory a reality.

The process of online radicalisation is similar to radicalisation in any closed environment, but new technologies have made it faster and more far-reaching. Social-media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube offer anyone — including jihadists — the opportunity to convey messages to would-be supporters around the world. These platforms are also easier to use, and to use pseudonymously, than password protect jihadist websites and chat rooms. This enables reaching a much larger pool of people. The algorithms on which social media platforms function also connect users to content that resonates with them, meaning that these platforms help do the work of finding potential recruits and supporters. Moreover, it is possible for these individuals to connect directly with credible figures, be they clerics or fighters in a conflict zone.<25>

Historically, popular support for a terrorist or insurgent group has been characterised as active or passive. Active supporters are willing to risk personal harm or make other types of sacrifices either by joining an insurgent group or movement, or providing material assistance such as money, shelter, weapons or other supplies, intelligence, and medical aid. Passive supporters sympathise with a group’s cause and probably will not betray its members or active supporters, but they stop short of joining up, providing material assistance, or otherwise acting on behalf of the group or movement in question.<26>

This dichotomy remains valid for assessing and describing supporters on the ground where a violent extremist organisation operates. However, the rise of social media has created new ways for people to support an extremist cause without executing or supporting attacks, donating money, or otherwise engaging in traditional supportive activities. Instead, social media users can amplify a group’s message or behaviour, helping with fundraising, radicalisation, and recruitment by uploading content on the Internet or even just clicking the retweet button.<27> Moreover, online radicalisation may occur thousands of miles away from where a conflict is taking place, or right in the heart of it. The growing number of individuals becoming radicalised online in the West understandably receives a lot of attention. Another growing phenomenon is the increase in Internet-based radicalisation in places — such as Afghanistan, India, and Kenya — where jihadist groups traditionally recruited through more traditional means.

As social media companies have cracked down, jihadists increased their use of encrypted messaging platforms. Talent-spotters operating on publicly visible social-media sites connect with potential recruits, and then steer them toward end-to-end encryption, which is often inaccessible to governments. According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, the FBI was unable to access the content of 7,775 devices in fiscal year 2017: that is more than half of those it attempted to access in that year.<28> As the Bipartisan Policy Center assessed in a report on digital counterterrorism, “[b]y toggling between publicly visible social media and encrypted messaging applications, terrorist recruiters can share their message with a vast global audience and then communicate securely with individuals lured in by that public outreach.”<29>

In addition to facilitating the radicalisation and mobilisation of new supporters, end-to-end encryption also enables jihadists to engage in operational plotting. The Islamic State also used end-to-end encryption to pioneer a “virtual-planner model,” in which its operatives provided guidance to inspired individuals, like Mohammed Yazdani, on how to conduct attacks halfway across the world. This guidance has been relevant for everything from conceiving plots to selecting targets to building bombs. In some cases, virtual planners helped operatives to troubleshoot during an attack, or overcoming last-minute nerves before executing one.<30>

Not all terrorist groups use social media equally. The core al-Qaeda organisation was eclipsed by its own affiliates. Al-Shabaab was an early adopter, especially of Twitter, which it used for everything from recruitment to fact-checking media when the group believed a story was misreported.<31>

AQAP was also more active on social media specifically, and the Internet in general than al-Qaeda core. The Islamic State has been the most prolific jihadist organisation, combining social media savvy with video production techniques to produce propaganda that helped attract record number of foreign fighters.<32>

At the same time, the group also adopted elements of al-Suri’s strategy, and called on its sympathisers who could not emigrate to undertake attacks in their home countries:

“If the infidels have shut the door of hijrah in your faces, then open the door of jihad in theirs. Make your deed a source of their regret. Truly, the smallest act you do in their lands is more beloved to us than the biggest act done here ; it is more effective for us and more harmful to them. If one of you wishes and strives to reach the lands of the Islamic State, then each of us wishes to be in your place to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them until every neighbor fears his neighbor.”<33>

This strategy contributed to the high number of Islamic State attacks in the West after June 2014. The group was not the first jihadist organisation to adopt al-Suri’s method of inspiring attacks abroad, while simultaneously pursuing Naji’s strategy of seizing territory at home. AQAP had pursued a similar course of action, with Anwar al-Awlaki and the Inspire magazine he produced, rousing adherents to action. However, once again, the Islamic State was considerably more prolific. As Kim Cragin pointed out in the Texas National Security Review earlier this year, the group conducted more external operations — attacks conducted outside Syria, Iraq, or its 25 so-called provinces — from 2015 to 2017 than the al-Qaeda network did during a similar period from 2008 to 2010. She further highlighted that the Islamic State’s “inspired” operations made up a considerable proportion of the total number of the total.<34>

The way forward

No one could have predicted that a Tunisian street vendor setting himself on fire would spark a conflagration that consumed much of the Arab world.<35>

Nor could anyone have foreseen that a former soccer enthusiast in Iraq, who had done time in a US-administered prison camp, would command the most powerful jihadist group the world had ever seen and declare himself the leader of the Caliphate.<36>

What analysts can do is to identify trends. Insurgents have long sought to influence adherents and potential supporters, including through governance and the use of propaganda. The ways in which jihadist groups have adopted and adapted these practices, especially in terms of their ability to use new technologies, are trends we cannot ignore. So what can we do?

The international community has scored significant victories against the Islamic State, severely degraded core al-Qaeda, kept AQAP contained, and disrupted other terrorist groups across the world. And yet, despite nearly two decades of US-led counterterrorism operations, the Center for Strategic and International Studies recently found that there are almost four times as many Sunni Islamist militants operating in 2018 as there were on 9/11.<37>

One way of making sense of this is to posit that terrorist organisations have been weakened in the past several years, but that the wider jihadist movement remains strong. If one accepts this proposition, then it is impossible to ignore the fact that the movement’s ongoing strength stems in large part from the fragile nature of the states in which the majority of its adherents operate. State fragility is rampant across parts of South and Central Asia, the Middle East, Horn of Africa, and Sahel, where governments lack legitimacy and fail to provide their citizens with adequate security or basic social services. Many of these governments are poorly run and corrupt, led by elites who are predatory and sometimes inclined toward authoritarian tendencies. Rule of law is often absent.

For years, the international community has sought to reduce these risk factors through various policies and programmes, but too often it has done so through a counterterrorism lens. Put another way, the aim has been to address these deficiencies in large part to reduce terrorism. Because terrorism prevention was the objective, this may have helped to engender tradeoffs that favored short-term solutions that relied more on the use of force. This has certainly been the case for the United States. There is another way of approaching the problem, however, and one that European countries advocate: viewing terrorism as just one negative outgrowth from fragile states (immigration flows is another), and focusing primarily on addressing the state fragility that is at the heart of these problems. This view merits consideration, and it is worth noting that the US Institute of Peace Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States has adopted elements of it.<38>

The use of force still has a place in this approach. After all, security is critical for development and reform. And no country should be expected to allow looming threats to fester without addressing them. However, the international community, and especially the United States, which has been in the lead when it comes to building the security capacity of partner nations, can and should do more to ensure that force is used judiciously.

External actors also must develop greater commonality in terms of envisioning terrorist threats and how to combat them, objectively assessing the potential for burden sharing, and making realistic approaches to improving efforts to shore up fragile states and combat terrorism in the Middle East, Africa, and South and Central Asia. Part of this effort includes identifying structural or political impediments to burden-sharing that cannot be overcome and therefore must be mitigated, as well as barriers that are worth attempting to surmount. It also requires building a community of interest among government officials and outside experts on how to improve state-to-state burden-sharing and incorporate it within the European Union, NATO, and the World Bank.

A similar cooperative effort is needed to combat online radicalisation and the misuse of encrypted communications channels. There is no single policy fix when it comes to terrorists’ use of technology. We need to think in terms of layered security, similar to the ways in which countries approach airport or homeland security. In this case, the need for public- private partnerships and international collaboration is even greater. Governments, multinational organisations and alliances, and the private sector must come together to create rules of the road. This means promoting national and global norms that balance security needs with individual privacy and freedom of expression. Put simply: better governance, on the ground and online, is critical to combatting jihadists locally and globally.

This essay originally appeared in The Raisina Files


<1> Jen Easterly and Joshua A. Geltzer, “The Islamic State and the End of Lone-Wolf Terrorism”, Foreign Policy, May 23, 2017.

<2> For example see: Letter from ‘Atiyya (akak Mahmud) to Bin Laden, June 19, 2010, Government Exhibit 421-10-CR-019-S-4-RJD (Abbottabad document released at trial of Abid Naseer).

<3> Mark Mazzetti, “CIA Drone Is Said to Kill Al Qaeda’s No. 2,” New York Times, August 27, 2011.

<4> Seth Jones, A Persistent Threat: The Evolution of al Qa’ida and Other Salafi Jihadists (Arlington, VA: RAND, 2014), x.

<5> Letter to Atiyya (Sheikh Mahmud) from Osama bin Laden (Abu Abdullah), April 26, 2011, SOCOM-2012-0000010.

<6> Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “The Cuban in the Desert,” Foreign Policy, August 13, 2013.

<7> On Libya see, Mohammed Abbas, “Libya Prisoner Release Stokes Fears of Tribal Strife,” Reuters, March 3, 2011. On Syria see, Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan, ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015), 139

<8> Michael Totten, “Year Four: The Arab Spring Proved Everyone Wrong,” World Affairs Journal 177, no. 2 (July/August 2014): 43–49.

<9> Aaron Zelin, Tunisian Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria (Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Nov. 2018).

<10> The Arab uprisings catalyzed civil wars directly in Libya and Syria, and indirectly contributed to or facilitated the outbreak of conflict in Yemen and Mali.

<11> “Sunni Rebels Declare New Islamic Caliphate,” Al Jazeera, June 30, 2014.

<12> Social welfare included medical clinics for people in need of health services, affordable housing, schools to provide free education, and militias to act as intermediaries in neighborhood conflicts. At the same time, EIG engaged in violent acts of vigilantism against individuals who did not confirm to its interpretation of sharia, as well as against “unIslamic” targets such as liquor stores and video shops. James Toth, “Islamism in Southern Egypt: A Case Study of a Radical Religious Movement,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 35, no. 4 (2003): 557. Meijer, “Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong As a Principle of Social Action,” 194-200.

<13> The Northwest Frontier Province has since been renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which in turn has incorporated the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. For more on the TTP see for example, Mona Kanwal Sheikh, Guardians of God: Inside the Religious Mind of the Pakistani Taliban (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2017

<14> Stig Jarle Hansen, Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2005-2012 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

<15> Naji Abu Bakr, Management of Savagery: The Most Critical State Through Which the Ummah will Pass, trans. William McCants, unpublished manuscript, 2004.

<16> Naji also argued it would be necessary to secure the region from external attack, provide military training to young men in the population, form an intelligence apparatus, attack enemies, and establish coalitions with allies.

<17> Abu Zubayr Adel al-Abab, a senior AQAP official, admitted that, “the name Ansar al-Sharia is what we use to introduce ourselves in areas where we work, to tell people about our work and goals, and that we are on the path of Allah.” “Online Question and Answer Session with Abu Zubayr Adel al-Abab, Sharia Official for al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula, April 18, 2012,” translation by Amany Soliman from the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence. See also, Christopher Swift, “Arc of Convergence: AQAP, Ansar al-Shari’a and the Struggle for Yemen,” CTC Sentinel Vol. 5, no. 6 (June 2012).

<18> For a brief primer on the different Ansar al-Sharia branches that emerged see, Aaron Zelin, “Know Your Ansar al-Sharia”, Foreign Policy, Sept. 21, 2012.

<19> Anonymous letter (assessed to be either Osama bin Laden and/or Atiyya) to Abu Basir (Nasir al-Wuhayshi), written after October 2010, SOCOM-2012-0000016. Anonymous letter (assessed to be Osama bin Ladin) to unknown, date unknown, SOCOM-2012-0000017.

<20> Daveed Gartenstein-Ross et al., Islamic State vs. Al-Qaeda: Strategic Dimensions of a Patricidal Conflict (Washington, DC: New America Foundation, 2016).

<21> These efforts at restraint often were not as effective in practice as envisioned.

<22> The Islamic State leadership also directed its so-called provinces in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere to adhere to this same approach.

<23> For more on this dynamic and on Naji’s influence on the Islamic State see for example, R. Kim Cragin, “The Riptide: How Foreign Fighter Returnees Could Shape the Jihadist Movement,” Texas National Security Review, Mar. 20, 2018.

<24> BrynjarLia, Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of al-Qa’ida Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

<25> This paragraph draws from a report on Bipartisan Policy Center report on terrorism and counterterrorism in the digital age, which evaluates these developments in considerable depth. See, Blaise Misztal et al, Digital Counterterrorism: Fighting Jihadists Online, (Washington, DC: Bipartisan Policy Center, Mar. 2018).

<26> See for Example, Bard E. O’Neill, Insurgency and Terrorism: From Revolution to Apocalypse (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2005), ch. 5.

<27> Misztalop. cit.

<28> Christopher Wray, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Remarks before the International Conference on Cyber Security, January 9, 2018.

<29> Misztalop. cit.

<30> On the virtual planner model see, the Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Madeleine Blackman, “ISIL’s Virtual Planners: A Critical Terrorist Innovation”, War on the Rocks, Jan. 4, 2017; Daveed Gartenstein-Ross,“We Squeezed the Balloon: As ISIL Collapses, Jihadism Remains in a Growth Phase,” TNSR, March 20, 2018.

<31> Clint Watts, Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2018).

<32> J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan, The ISIS Twitter Census: Defining and Describing the Population of ISIS Supporters on Twitter (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2015).

<33> Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, “That they Live by Proof,” Statement by ISIL Spokesman, translated and released by al-Hayat Media Center, May 22, 2


<34> R. Kim Cragin, “The Riptide: How Foreign Fighter Returnees Could Shape the Jihadist Movement,” Texas National Security Review, Mar. 20, 2018.

<35> Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable vendor, provided the spark for the Arab uprisings in December 2010 when he set himself on fire outside a municipal building to protest corruption. The uprisings that followed gained steam in 2011.

<36> William McCants, The Believer: How an Introvert with a Passion for Religion and Soccer Became Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Leader of the Islamic State (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2015).

<37> Seth Jones et al, The Evolution of the Salafi-Jihadist Threat: Current and Future Challenges from the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and Other Groups (Washington, DC: CSIS, 2018).

<38> Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, Beyond the Homeland: Protecting America from Extremism in Fragile States (Washington, DC: USIP, 2018).

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Stephen Tankel

Stephen Tankel

Stephen Tankel is Associate Professor at the American University.

Read More +