Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement: What Everyone Needs to Know

Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement: What Everyone Needs to Know

Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement: What Everyone Needs to Know

Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement: What Everyone Needs to Know

Synopsis

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the entire world was introduced to Al Qaeda and its enigmatic leader, Osama bin Laden. But the organization that changed the face of terrorism forever and unleashed a whirlwind of counterterrorism activity and two major wars had been on the scene long before that eventful morning. In Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement: What Everyone Needs to Know, Daniel L. Byman, an eminent scholar of Middle East terrorism and international security who served on the 9/11 Commission, provides a sharp and concise overview of Al Qaeda, from its humble origins in the mountains of Afghanistan to the present, explaining its perseverance and adaptation since 9/11 and the limits of U.S. and allied counterterrorism efforts. The organization that would come to be known as Al Qaeda traces its roots to the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Founded as the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, Al Qaeda achieved a degree of international notoriety with a series of spectacular attacks in the 1990s; however, it was the dramatic assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11 that truly launched Al Qaeda onto the global stage. The attacks endowed the organization with world-historical importance and provoked an overwhelming counterattack by the United States and other western countries. Within a year of 9/11, the core of Al Qaeda had been chased out of Afghanistan and into a variety of refuges across the Muslim world. Splinter groups and franchised offshoots were active in the 2000s in countries like Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen, but by early 2011, after more than a decade of relentless counterterrorism efforts by the United States and other Western military and intelligence services, most felt that Al Qaeda's moment had passed. With the death of Osama bin Laden in May of that year, many predicted that Al Qaeda was in its death throes. Shockingly, Al Qaeda has staged a remarkable comeback in the last few years. In almost every conflict in the Muslim world, from portions of the Xanjing region in northwest China to the African subcontinent, Al Qaeda franchises or like-minded groups have played a role. Al Qaeda's extreme Salafist ideology continues to appeal to radicalized Sunni Muslims throughout the world, and it has successfully altered its organizational structure so that it can both weather America's enduring full-spectrum assault and tailor its message to specific audiences. Authoritative and highly readable, Byman's account offers readers insightful and penetrating answers to the fundamental questions about Al Qaeda: who they are, where they came from, where they're going - and, perhaps most critically - what we can do about it.

Excerpt

Al Qaeda became a household name on the morning of September 11, 2001. But the terrorist organization that shocked the world and unleashed a whirlwind of controversial counterterrorism measures and two major wars had been on the scene long before that bloody day. I did not predict the 9/11 attacks or anything near that magnitude—but perhaps I should have. For unlike most Americans, I had long studied and followed the activities of Al Qaeda and its jihadist fellow travelers.

Al Qaeda grew out of the anti-Soviet struggle in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but the broader jihadist movement was around well before that. I saw fragments of this movement everywhere in the 1990s. As a CIA analyst working on the Middle East at the beginning of the decade, I followed individuals who had fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets and who, upon returning home, became the nucleus of local jihadist groups. As an analyst with the RAND Corporation, a defense think tank, I followed the growth of jihadism in Saudi Arabia, the American counterterrorism response after Al Qaeda blew up two US embassies in 1998, and the metastasizing danger of the shadowy new government of Afghanistan—the Taliban.

The 9/11 attacks, however, transformed Al Qaeda from an issue of peripheral interest to a few analysts, scholars, and policymakers to the issue at the center of US foreign policy. Al Qaeda and the US response continued to fascinate me, and in my work for the 9/11 Commission, for the Brookings Institution, and at Georgetown University, I studied how Al Qaeda adapted to the ferocious US-led . . .

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