Given how quickly its operations have achieved global impact, it may seem 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. In summer 2014, ISIS declared itself the Caliphate after capturing Mosul, Iraq—part of stage five in al-Adl’s plan.
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.
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.