In 2014, it seemed that the Islamic State materialized suddenly. In fact, al-Qaeda’s operations chief, Sayf al-Adl, devised a seven-stage plan for jihadis to conquer the world by 2020 that included reestablishing the Caliphate in Syria between 2013 and 2016. Despite a massive schism between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, al-Adl’s plan has proved remarkably prescient. Drawing on large troves of recently declassified documents captured from the Islamic State and its predecessors, counterterrorism expert Brian Fishman tells the story of this organization’s complex and largely hidden past—and what the master plan suggests about its future in his book, The Master Plan: ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory. Only by understanding the Islamic State’s full history—and the strategy that drove it—can we understand the contradictions that may ultimately tear it apart.
Brian Fishman is a fellow with the International Security program at New America and a leading expert on ISIS. He served as the Director of Research at the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center and began studying the progenitors of ISIS in 2005. In 2008, Fishman first taught an academic course on the Islamic State of Iraq’s turn toward governance, and he predicted the rise of the Islamic State in early 2011, prior to the Syrian civil war. While teaching at West Point, Fishman led a cutting edge program to declassify data captured from al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq. He is the author of numerous groundbreaking studies, focused on jihadi foreign fighters in Iraq and Iranian military and political influence in Iraq. Fishman is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Follow the discussion online using #ISISMasterPlan and following @NewAmericaISP.