“Al-Qaeda 2.o? Meet Abu Mus’ab al-Suri and his grand strategy for the Islamic State”

In November last year, Paris suffered its biggest terrorist attack in modern history when 130 people died in a series of shootings and bombings across the city. The mastermind of the attack, a Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was suspected to have travelled to Syria in the past. All of his accomplices were nationals of the European Union. The following month, an American couple of Pakistani origin, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in a shooting in the Californian city of San Bernardino. No direct ties to any extremist group were found – beyond evidence of self-radicalisation.

A nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was attacked by an American of Afghan descent in June this year, the biggest mass-shooting in US history. The attacker, Omar Mateen, was troubled though not having shown in any overt signs of being radicalised. He pledged allegiance to Islamic State head – and self-proclaimed caliph – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi only during a call to an emergency line during the shooting.

Paris, San Bernardino, Orlando, Dhaka, Nice. What connects them, beyond the fact that all of the attackers had – in one way or another – operated under the IS banner? Are they, as the media is fond of saying, “lone wolves,” whose actions are being cleverly coopted by the IS? Or are they proverbial pawns in IS’ grand strategy? What is IS’ grand strategy? The answers to these questions may lie in the writings of one man, Abu Mus’ab al-Suri – a Syrian national with Spanish citizenship who was once described by a journalist as resembling an “Irish pub patron”. Al-Suri is now in a prison in Syria, having been rendered there by the CIA after he was captured in Quetta, Pakistan, in 2005. His ideas, on the other hand, are very much at play.

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“The strategist: How Abu Mus’ab al-Suri inspired ISIS”

My latest research paper is now out as an ORF Occasional Paper, available here.

Abstract

This paper takes a look into the life and work of Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, jihadist theorist, and argues that he should be considered the architect of the extant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This is done by way of an examination of his own writings, as well as secondary literature on al-Suri, al-Qaeda, and ISIS. A key point that emerges out of this analysis is that ISIS is likely to continue its two-pronged strategy: of individual attacks offshore, and consolidating territory in Iraq and Syria.