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Abstract and Figures

This paper argues for a new conceptualization of the Sunni global jihad movement as four distinct waves with each wave rising out of a particular crisis and having its own unique ideological calculus and strategic goal. The first wave (1979-1990) emerged from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and stressed the liberation of occupied Muslim lands via a Jihadi International. The second wave, 1996-2011, undertook an “America First” approach to global jihad given the failures of local jihads in Egypt, Algeria, and elsewhere. The destruction of the Iraqi state and, later, the civil war in Syria gave rise to a third wave of global jihad (2003-2017) that emphasized global reach in order to capture and hold territory to immediately create an Islamic state. A simultaneous but distinct fourth wave of global jihad emerged from the destruction in 2001 of the Afghan “emirate” under the Taliban and the essential defeat of al-Qa’ida, and focuses on worldwide Islamic “resistance” (muqawama) in the form of an endless series of decentralized and small scale “personal jihads” (jihad fardi) around the globe. This fourth wave of global jihad does not pose a significant strategic threat but does promise exceptional durability.
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70
Middle East Policy, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Fall 2017
© 2017, The Author Middle East Policy © 2017, Middle East Policy Council


Glenn E. Robinson
Dr. Robinson is on the faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School in
Monterey, CA, and is also aliated with the Center for Middle East Studies
at the University of California, Berkeley.*
* The author wishes to thank Daniel Byman, Mohammed Hafez and Robert Springborg for their invaluable
comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Any remaining errors of fact or interpretation are his alone.
Debates about the role that Islam
should play in shaping politics
and political systems have been
around since the beginning
of Islam itself. Islamism as a sociopoliti-
cal movement, however, originated in the
twentieth century, its beginnings linked
to problems associated with imperialism,
modern states, rapid urbanization and
the rise of mass societies. The organized
expression of Islamism began in 1928,
when Hasan al-Banna founded the Muslim
Brotherhood in Egypt.1 The Muslim Broth-
erhood and its aliates remain the gold
standard for the institutional expression of
Islamist thought.2
While the Muslim Brotherhood en-
gaged in violence from time to time in
Egypt and elsewhere during the middle
of the twentieth
century, Islamist politi-
cal thought in general was not predicated
on the use of violence to achieve political
ends.
3
This began to change in the 1960s,
as new schools of Islamist thought began to
advocate the use of violence to accomplish
their political goals, usually the overthrow
of local regimes that were viewed as apos-
tate. Within the Sunni world, the most im-
portant of these new thinkers who stressed
the role of violent jihad was Sayyid Qutb.
4
Like most jihadi ideologues, Qutb was a
lay Muslim rather than a cleric, employed
within Egypt’s Ministry of Education and
fairly worldly, having spent two years in
the late 1940s in the United States. As
with the rest of the Muslim Brotherhood
leadership, Qutb ran afoul of the new Free
Ocers regime, which came to power in
Egypt in 1952. He spent years in prison be-
fore nally being hanged by Gamal Abdel
Nasser’s regime in 1966.
Qutb’s fatal oense was writing the
slim volume Maalim f’il-Tariq (Mile-
stones), in which he called for the violent
overthrow of Nasser’s regime on the
grounds that it was jahili, anti-Islamic.
Qutb’s book was a call to arms for jihadis
throughout the Sunni Muslim world, in
much the same way that Vladimir Lenin’s
What Is to Be Done? was for Communists.
5
Qutb’s work provided the intellectual
foundations for the jihadi movement in the
contemporary Sunni world and remains
inuential in jihadi circles to this day.
6
While this essay focuses on global ji-
had among Sunni Muslims (there is no real
71
Robinson: The Four Waves of Global Jihad
equivalent of global jihad among the Shia),
it would be remiss not to mention that the
intellectual foundations of modern jihadism
in the Shia world arose at nearly the same
time. In 1970, while in exile in Najaf, Iraq,
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini delivered a
series of lectures on Islamic government
in which he argued that the shah’s govern-
ment was illegitimate and un-Islamic and
must be removed.
7
The implication was
clear: violence might well be necessary to
eect regime change in Iran. Khomeini was
the most famous voice to articulate a Shia
rationale for violence in order to imple-
ment a more just political and social order,
beginning in the 1960s; however, he was
not alone. For example, from the late 1960s
until his death under mysterious circum-
stances in 1977, Ali Shariati (a Sorbonne
PhD) articulated a political-religious ideol-
ogy that married Shiism with Marxism,
much as Liberation Theology among leftist
Catholic priests had woven together Chris-
tianity and Marxism in the 1970s.
8
Thus, as we date the emergence of
Islamism to 1928 with the establishment of
the Muslim Brotherhood, we can like-
wise date the emergence of modern jihadi
thought — the call for violence to imple-
ment a political agenda under the banner
of Islam — to the 1960s. Their intellec-
tual foundations now laid, both Islamism
and jihadism surged in importance in the
Muslim world in the 1970s and 1980s. The
reasons for the dramatic rise of these two
phenomena are complex and varied, in-
cluding the sudden strengthening of Saudi
Arabia and other conservative oil states
and the general failure of secular republics
in the Middle East to deliver economic
growth and good governance.9
The key point in this discussion is that,
in both intellectual construct and practice,
neither Islamism nor jihadism contained
an important global aspect. Like Christian-
ity, Islam is a proselytizing religion, and
thus pious Muslims (like pious Christians)
believe aspirationally that the whole world
must one day share their religion. As a
result, one can always nd this type of
global religious reference in the writings
of Islamist and jihadi thinkers (and other
Muslims), but this is dierent from placing
a global strategy for change or violence at
the center of one’s political project. Early
jihadi thinkers in particular focused on lo-
cal issues, primarily what Muhammad Abd
al-Salam Faraj would later call the “near
enemy”: local Muslim regimes.10
Global jihadism emerged as an o-
shoot of the broader jihadi movement in
the 1980s or, more specically, with the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in Decem-
ber 1979. While the global jihadi move-
ment has grown substantially over the past
four decades, it has remained a fairly small
component of militant jihadism, which still
overwhelmingly focuses on local issues.
Global jihadism has now witnessed four
distinct waves. None is part of some grand-
er conspiracy, but rather a response to a
specic crisis from which a particular idea
of global jihad emerged. Each wave has
had a dening idea about what was meant
by global jihad and at least one ideologue
who most closely articulated it. In every
case, the idea of global jihad was clearly
shaped by the crisis from which it arose.
I will briey summarize the four waves
here and then treat each one in more detail
below. The rst wave of global jihad began
with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in
1979 and the subsequent call for Muslims
from around the world to come and help
liberate Afghanistan. This jihad against the
Soviets continued throughout the 1980s
to be primarily a classic anti-colonial
jihad, but during this time a jihadi oshoot
72
Middle East Policy, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Fall 2017
emerged dedicated to the idea of freeing all
occupied Muslim lands around the world.
Although this would begin with Afghani-
stan, the global jihad was to move on to
other lands viewed as properly Muslim but
occupied by indels — from Palestine to
Kashmir to Mindanao and, ultimately, to
Spain (al-Andalus). The idea was that a
“solid base” of mujahideen warriors would
travel the world working with local Mus-
lim populations to liberate Muslim lands,
forming a type of “Jihadi International.”11
This rst wave came to an end after the
Soviets left Afghanistan and the Jihadi
International idea proved impractical.
The second wave of global jihad —
Bin Laden’s “America First” or far-enemy
strategy — can be dated from about 1996.
It arose out of a crisis of defeat, particu-
larly in Egypt and Algeria, where jihadi
armed insurrections to overthrow local
regimes had largely ground to a halt in
failure. The defeat in Egypt was par-
ticularly stinging to Bin Laden, given the
importance of Egypt as the most populated
and strategically important Arab country.
This second wave of global jihad had its
heyday from 1998 to 2001 with a series of
increasingly audacious direct attacks on
American targets, culminating in the terror
attacks of September 11, 2001. What came
to be known as “al-Qaeda Central” was
largely defeated by 2002 but sputtered on
in diminished form under Bin Laden until
2011, when he was killed by U.S. Navy
Seals at his compound in Pakistan.
The third distinct wave of global jihad
began with the overthrow of the Iraqi state
in 2003 by U.S. forces and intensied with
the civil war in Syria that began in 2011.
The Four Waves of Global Jihad, 1979-2017
    
-

1979-1990
1979 Soviet
invasion of
Afghanistan
Occupation of
Muslim lands
Create interna-
tional band of
Muslim warriors
to liberate Mus-
lim territory
Abdullah Azzam


1996-2011
1997 defeat of
jihad in Egypt
and Algeria
Durability of
apostate regimes
Direct violent ac-
tion to drive U.S.
out of Muslim
world
Osama Bin Laden


2003 U.S. inva-
sion of Iraq, 2011
civil war in Syria
Apostasy, aided
by Shia rule
Take and hold ter-
ritory, implement
sharia, declare
Islamic State
Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, Abu
Bakr Naji, Abu
Bakr al-Baghdadi




2001 defeat of
Taliban, destruc-
tion of ‘emirate’
Looming defeat
of global jihad
Networked,
decentralized,
small-scale vio-
lence attached to
media campaign
Abu Musab
al-Suri
73
Robinson: The Four Waves of Global Jihad
The creation of essentially “ungoverned
lands” in the Sunni areas of northwestern
Iraq and eastern Syria allowed for the
creation of a new form of global jihad, one
focused on establishing a territorial jihadi
state. The end of this third wave of global
jihad comes with the end of the “Islamic
Caliphate” as a territorial state, likely in
2017. The “Islamic State” group, or ISIS,
will no doubt continue as a terror organiza-
tion, but the loss of its territorial state will
mark the end of an era.
The fourth wave of global jihad began
almost simultaneously with the third, but
out of a dierent crisis and with a very dif-
ferent idea about global jihad. It emerged
from the defeat of the Taliban in 2001 and
the loss of the Islamic “emirate.” The de-
feat of the Taliban (and the near-destruction
of its al-Qaeda allies) was the crisis that
prompted Abu Musab al-Suri to rethink
global jihad for an era when the movement
was on the defensive, asking the question
of how global jihad could survive to ght
another day. His answer was networked but
decentralized jihad fardi, personal jihad,
undertaken by individuals and small cells
under the banner of global jihad, mak-
ing full use of the Internet and other new
information technologies. It is this fourth
wave of global jihad in which the world
nds itself today, a wave that, while not a
high-level strategic threat, does constitute a
durable and deadly source of fear.

In an attempt to save an allied regime
on the verge of collapse, Soviet troops
invaded Afghanistan in December 1979.
Prior to the Soviet invasion, the “jihad”
in Afghanistan against the leftist regime
in Kabul had not gained signicant atten-
tion among jihadi audiences, even though
it was on the cusp of victory. The armed
takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca
by Saudi jihadis earlier in 1979 was a far
more notable event, as was the overthrow
of the shah in Shia Iran at the beginning
of 1979. However, the military occupation
of Muslim Afghanistan by “indel” Soviet
troops changed the calculus and gave
much greater international attention to the
conict in Afghanistan.
The USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan
t into a dispossession narrative common
in the Muslim world, and its theme reso-
nated even more among Islamists of all
stripes: the gradual loss of Muslim lands
around the world to non-Muslim forces
since the high point of Muslim expan-
sion in the seventeenth century. The jihad
to drive out the Soviets would become a
cause célèbre in the Muslim world and
generate among jihadis the idea that Mus-
lim warriors, united by their faith, could be
nearly invincible.
The man responsible for laying the
intellectual foundations for this rst wave
of global jihad was Abdullah Yusuf Az-
zam, a Palestinian-Jordanian who was both
well educated and well traveled, having
studied and taught in Jordan, Syria, Egypt,
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.12 Assassinated
in 1989 in Peshawar, Pakistan, Azzam is
still considered one of the most important
intellectuals in jihadi circles, both as a
popularizer of the Afghan jihad and as an
important innovator in jihadi thought. It is
fair to say that Azzam was the founder of
the idea of global jihad.
Unlike most jihadi ideologues, Azzam
was a trained cleric, having received his
doctorate in Islamic jurisprudence from the
famed al-Azhar University in Cairo. This
clerical training gave Azzam’s fundamen-
tal radicalism a more traditional bent, and
also gave his writings signicant credibil-
ity among fellow radicals.
74
Middle East Policy, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Fall 2017
Azzam laid out his arguments in a
series of texts, the two most famous being
the 1984 fatwa (religious opinion) The
Defense of Muslim Lands and the 1987
book Join the Caravan. Azzam’s basic
argument may be summarized as follows:
Muslim lands have been lost over time to
non-Muslim forces, and they need to be
taken back for use by the Muslim ummah
(community). The two most important
places to begin the reconquest of Muslim
lands globally are Afghanistan and Pal-
estine. Where Muslim lands have been
occupied, it is obligatory for all Muslims
(fard ayn) to participate in their recapture,
which can only be accomplished through
violent jihad. No other method will be
successful, since occupiers will not readily
give up such territory. The strategy is for a
solid base of mujahidin (the “beating heart
and thinking mind of jihad”) to travel the
world and work with Muslim communities
to undertake “peoples’ jihads” to liberate
occupied Muslim lands.
Azzam’s signature innovation was the
call for global jihad based on a “solid base”
(qaidat al-sulba) of well-trained Muslim
mujahidin from around the world, a sort
of “Jihadi International.” Azzam’s vision
was at once both radical and traditional:
he interpreted jihad in a far more glob-
ally expansive manner than had been the
case previously, but he maintained a strict
focus on territory. Armed jihad to liberate
occupied land is an orthodox, traditional
use of the concept of jihad. Indeed, Azzam
rejected the takr argument made most
strenuously by Ayman al-Zawahiri, that the
post-Afghan jihad should focus on over-
throwing apostate Muslim regimes, begin-
ning in Egypt, not on liberating territory,
which would be far more dicult. Azzam
saw the use of takr, ex-communication
of Muslims, to be a slippery slope leading
directly to tna, internecine Muslim dis-
cord. For Azzam, takr would weaken the
ummah rather than strengthen it.
13
Azzam’s radicalism was not limited to
the expansive, globalized nature of armed
jihad. Azzam agreed with Sayyid Qutb
that armed jihad was not an episodic set
of discrete events (the orthodox Muslim
view) but rather a permanent state for all
Muslims, reminiscent of Leon Trotsky’s
argument for permanent revolution. Azzam
can also be credited with the idea of the
“cult of martyrdom,” including religious
justication for suicide bombings. Suicide
is a mortal sin in Islam, as in Catholicism,
making Azzam’s task of justifying suicide
operations dicult.
Azzam’s call for young Muslim men
to “join the caravan,” and come to Af-
ghanistan to ght, successfully recruited
thousands to the cause, although foreign
ghters did not play a decisive role in the
ultimate defeat of the Soviets in Afghani-
stan. The withdrawal of the USSR in early
1989 left the followers of global jihad with
a dilemma: where to take the jihad next?
Should they follow Azzam’s advice and
ght in Palestine or some other occupied
Muslim lands, or follow Zawahiri’s takri
line and put their resources into over-
throwing apostate rulers in the Muslim
world, particularly Hosni Mubarak? More
traditional Muslims simply left for home,
knowing that the particular jihad to liberate
Afghanistan was over. The debate among
global jihadis was furious and may have
contributed to Azzam’s assassination by
car bomb in Pakistan in November 1989.14
The Soviet withdrawal, along with
Azzam’s death, helped bring to a close the
rst wave of global jihad. One last eort to
realize Azzam’s vision of a Jihadi Interna-
tional that would travel to occupied zones
to liberate land occurred in Kuwait follow-
75
Robinson: The Four Waves of Global Jihad
ing the Iraqi invasion in August 1990. Az-
zam’s former pupil and colleague, Osama
bin Laden, approached the Saudi royal
family with an oer: instead of bringing in
the Americans and other indels to liberate
Kuwait, allow Bin Laden to put the band
back together, bring in 100,000 mujahidin
from around the world, and liberate Kuwait
with Muslim hands. The Saudis, of course,
had no interest in enabling tens of thou-
sands of foreign jihadis to roam around the
kingdom, and declined the oer, setting a
spurned Bin Laden o on his own path to
change the nature of global jihad.

The Saudi decision to reject Bin Lad-
en’s oer to bring in foreign mujahidin to
liberate Kuwait tipped the scales decisively
against the idea of a Jihadi International, as
it proved to be unworkable in practice. The
rejection also profoundly aected Bin Lad-
en’s thinking, bringing him much closer (at
least for a few years) to Zawahiri’s takri
idea that the fundamental problem was the
nature of regimes in the Muslim world.
How could any proper Muslim leader
prefer the use of hundreds of thousands of
American and other indel forces to — as
the jihadi narrative would have it — the
genuine and pure mujahidin, who had
just demonstrated their power in defeat-
ing one of the world’s two superpowers in
Afghanistan? For Bin Laden, this decision
demonstrated an intrinsic corruption.
In the early 1990s, banned from Saudi
Arabia because of his growing militancy
and holed up in Sudan, Bin Laden had little
to do other than entertain the occasional
jihadi visitor and perhaps lend a hand to
militants next door in Somalia.
15
At the
broader level, there was very little, if any,
organized global jihad during this period.
Local groups remained active, although
most were now on the defensive against re-
newed regime eorts in the post-Cold War
regional environment. The conict in Bos-
nia following the collapse of Yugoslavia
attracted a large number of Muslim volun-
teers from dierent lands, but it would be
an exaggeration to say they were ghting
under the banner of global jihad.
Indeed, the 1990s were proving to be
a very dicult decade for jihadis of all
stripes, whether local or global. After 20
years of sustained success, either taking
power in countries or becoming signicant
political actors, both Islamists and jihadis
were losing ground as the 1990s wore on.16
The two most important examples of this
reversal of fortune were Egypt and Algeria.
The Egyptian regime had proved unable to
stamp out either the growing inuence of
Islamism or the low-intensity conict of
Egyptian jihadis, led by both the Islamic
Group (al-gamma al-islamiyya) and the
Jihad Organization (tanzim al-jihad). Areas
of Cairo had become dangerous places for
police and security personnel to visit after
dark, including one very large neighbor-
hood periodically referred to as the “Is-
lamic State of Imbaba.” Predictions of
the likely fall of the Mubarak regime and
the coming to power of Islamists of some
stripe were commonplace.17 Yet by 1997,
to the chagrin of Bin Laden and other ji-
hadis, the insurrection in Egypt was largely
defeated, with many jihadi leaders calling
for a ceasere and acknowledging that
their path of violence had been a mistake.18
In Algeria, the story was largely the
same. The political liberalization that
began in the late 1980s swept into power
the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS in its
French acronym, essentially the equiva-
lent of the Muslim Brotherhood) in the
1990 municipal elections across Algeria.
With the FIS halfway to the goal of win-
76
Middle East Policy, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Fall 2017
ning national parliamentary elections, the
Algerian military staged a coup in Janu-
ary 1992, stopped the elections and took
power, prompting a bloody civil war.
While Egypt’s conict was generally one
of low intensity, the Algerian civil war
was all-out and bloody. It featured some
extremely gruesome acts of terror against
civilians, the likes of which would not be
seen again in the region until the rise of
ISIS. By 1994, the Islamists and jihadis
were mostly ghting among themselves,
and, as in Egypt, by 1997 the civil war had
been largely won by the Algerian state.19
How did Bin Laden make sense of this
reversal of fortune? Was it not inevitable
that apostate regimes would collapse under
the righteous pressure of the mujahidin?
And how was it that local apostate re-
gimes in many parts of the region — not
just in Egypt and Algeria — had proven
to be much more durable than Bin Laden
had expected? It was in this context that
Bin Laden developed his “America First”
idea. According to this notion, it was U.S.
support for apostate regimes that allowed
them to survive. The logical strategy, then,
was to drive the United States from the
Middle East, thereby making local regimes
more vulnerable.20
Bin Laden drew his inspiration from
Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj, the ideo-
logue for the jihadi group that had assas-
sinated Anwar Sadat in 1981. In his tract
to fellow jihadis on the “missing duty” of
armed jihad (al-farida al-ghaiba), Faraj
warned his fellow jihadis not to waste
precious resources ghting the “far en-
emy,” which Faraj dened as Israel. Even
if jihadis successfully liberated Jerusalem,
apostate Arab regimes in Cairo and else-
where would end up claiming credit for it.
Rather, Faraj urged the jihadi movement to
focus on the “near enemy” of local apos-
tate regimes, beginning with the overthrow
of Sadat.21
Borrowing Faraj’s near-enemy/far-
enemy rubric, Bin Laden turned it upside
down in two ways. First, he decided that
Israel was just a symptom of a larger prob-
lem; it was the United States, not Israel,
that should be viewed as the far enemy
(adu baid). Second, Bin Laden believed
that it would be impossible to overthrow
apostate regimes in Cairo, Riyadh and
elsewhere without rst breaking their links
with Washington. So the focus of direct
action should not be on the near enemy
(adu qarib) of the apostate regimes — not
yet, anyway — but rather on American
targets, both military and civilian. Once
the Americans had been driven out of the
region, he assumed that the local regimes
would fall rather easily. Bin Laden was
convinced that the Americans would not
have the stomach for a ght, given how
easily they were driven out of Lebanon
and Somalia.
The rst iteration of Bin Laden’s
transition to a “far enemy” or “America
First” strategy was his 1996 “declaration
of war,” written shortly after he had been
forced out of Sudan and taken up residence
in Afghanistan. This long and meandering
document, appealing mostly to those in-
terested in internal Saudi dissent, received
little attention at the time. It is something
of a hybrid, still very much a takri-jihadi
argument for the illegitimacy of the Saudi
state (and the religious leadership that gave
such a state legitimacy), but also bringing
in the United States as the key enabling
power that allowed not just apostasy in
Saudi Arabia, but also anti-Islamic action
in Palestine and across the region. With
this document, Bin Laden kept one foot in
the door of the takri near-enemy camp,
but took a step with the other foot toward a
77
Robinson: The Four Waves of Global Jihad
far-enemy strategy — something no jihadi
ideologue had ever done.
Bin Laden’s clear and unequivocal
move to an “America First” strategy came
in the form of a 1998 fatwa against “Jews
and Crusaders,” of which Bin Laden was
the lead author. This document gener-
ated considerable criticism, both because
Bin Laden did not have the religious
credentials to issue a fatwa, and because
he signed his name “Shaykh” Osama Bin
Muhammad Bin Laden (thus implicitly
claiming those credentials). Recogniz-
ing his overreach, Bin Laden never again
signed a fatwa as a religious “shaykh.” The
document itself was pure “far enemy”: the
United States was in military occupation
of the holy lands of Arabia, was engaged
in aggression against Iraq and allowed the
“petty state of the Jews” to occupy Jeru-
salem and murder Muslims. In short, the
United States had “declared war on God,
his Messenger, and all Muslims.” Thus, it
was the duty of all Muslims to kill Ameri-
cans and their allies — civilian and mili-
tary — wherever possible, until Jerusalem
and Mecca are liberated and the Americans
“leave all the lands of Islam, defeated and
unable to threaten any Muslim.”22
Bin Laden maintained his focus on the
far-enemy strategy for the rest of his life,
although the heyday of the strategy and
of his revitalized al-Qaeda organization
was brief. It dated from the issuance of
this fatwa and al-Qaeda’s bombing of the
American embassies in Nairobi and Dar
es Salaam less than six months later to the
near destruction of al-Qaeda in Afghani-
stan in 2002.
While the central al-Qaeda organiza-
tion did survive the loss of Afghanistan
and the overthrow of its hosts, the Taliban,
it never again amounted to a signicant
force that could threaten the survival of
governments. In the post-9/11 period, al-
Qaeda gave rise to several oshoots, its af-
liate in Yemen being the most successful
(much of Yemen constituting “ungoverned
space” over which the state had little inu-
ence).23 Other existing groups, such as al-
Shabab in Somalia, pledged loyalty to Bin
Laden, largely because of the increased
marketing leverage such an alliance might
portend. But most of these aliates were
focused on local jihads and not particularly
concerned with the ideological cornerstone
of al-Qaeda — the thing that made it a
global jihadi group and set it apart from all
other jihadi groups: the focus on attacking
America rst to drive it out of the Muslim
world. Only al-Qaeda’s Yemen aliate, al-
Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP),
made attempts from time to time to inict
damage directly on the United States, most
notably by the “underwear bomber,” Umar
Faruq Abdulmutallab, in 2009. The death
of Bin Laden at U.S. hands in 2011 and the
rise of ISIS took the wind out of al-Qaeda
central’s tattered sails.

Neither Azzam’s quest to create a
Jihadi International nor Bin Laden’s call to
strike America First garnered large num-
bers of adherents among potential jihadis,
the vast majority of whom were focused on
issues in their own countries. By contrast,
the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)
was far more successful in attracting re-
cruits and resources from around the world
than its two global jihadi predecessors.
Perhaps, ironically, the reason ISIS proved
more successful was in large measure
because it was less global and more local.
ISIS was quite traditional in some ways:
ghting foreign invaders in the heart of the
Middle East, establishing its own territo-
rial state and working to overthrow Shia
78
Middle East Policy, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Fall 2017
regimes in Baghdad and Damascus. In
terms of extreme Sunni fundamentalism,
ISIS was rather orthodox. Even the radi-
cal aspects of ISIS — the declaration of
a caliphate — ts in with a long history
of multiple
claimants to
the oce.24
Indeed, ISIS
quite con-
sciously pat-
terned much
of its behav-
ior after early
Saudi state-
building attempts, primarily in the nine-
teenth century.25 Thus, of the four waves
of global jihad, ISIS has the least claim to
a global agenda, but the greatest ability to
recruit — two closely related phenomena.
As a more orthodox Sunni extremist group,
ISIS appealed to a broader audience than
al-Qaeda.
A reasonable question suggests itself:
why should ISIS be considered a global
jihad phenomenon, instead of just an-
other local Middle Eastern jihadi group?
There are three reasons for this. First, ISIS
successfully recruited large numbers of
ghters and other resources from all over
the world. Approximately 30,000-40,000
people from at least 86 countries joined the
ghting in Iraq and Syria, most under the
ISIS banner, including about 5,000 western
Europeans.26 Second, ISIS has a global vi-
sion: to bring the world’s 1.6 billion Mus-
lims under its authority and sovereignty.
This was the meaning of declaring a “ca-
liphate” as opposed to an Islamic “emir-
ate”: a caliphate claims authority over all
of the world’s Muslims, while an emirate
claims authority only over those people
inside the territory it controls. Third, ISIS
has shown a global reach, from terrorist
attacks in Europe to aliated emirates
around the Muslim world. It should be
noted that ISIS violence in the West only
began after Western countries started to
bomb its “caliphate” in parts of Iraq and
Syria; those
acts of terror
were moti-
vated more by
revenge than
ideology.
The crisis
that ulti-
mately led to
the formation
of ISIS was the U.S. decision to invade
Iraq in 2003. That invasion, widely seen
as a major strategic blunder by the United
States, created the chaos and grievances
from which ISIS emerged. The American
occupation of Iraq created a platform for
a jihadi radical from Jordan, Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, to implement his violent
program through his recently formed
group, al-tawhid wal-jihad (monotheism
and jihad). Zarqawi had a long history of
radical politics and prison time in Jordan;
his primary focus was initially on inciting
sectarian war against the Shia. At the same
time, al-Qaeda, in its diminished state, was
looking to gain a toehold in Iraq to ght
the Americans. Negotiations between Zar-
qawi and al-Qaeda did not go well at rst,
as Zarqawi clearly did not want to pledge
allegiance (baya) to Bin Laden — and, in
any case, he had a dierent vision for jihad
than did al-Qaeda.
By October 2004, however, Zarqawi
decided that joining with al-Qaeda made
the most sense for the growth of his group.
Thus was formed the Organization of Jihad
in Mesopotamia (tanzim qaidat al-jihad
 bilad al-radayn), better known in the
West as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). While






79
Robinson: The Four Waves of Global Jihad
AQI was technically a branch of al-Qaeda
for two years, it remained very much a
Zarqawi operation with Zarqawi’s goals.
AQI focused its eorts on bombing Shia
targets and publicly executing foreign-
ers, only periodically attacking American
military forces in Iraq. Straying so far from
al-Qaeda’s party line earned Zarqawi a
letter of rebuke from Ayman al-Zawahiri,
who noted that the issue of the Shia was
best saved for a later date, as American
forces were the proper target at that point.
Besides, the posting of videos of execu-
tions of civilians was doing serious harm
to the image of the jihadi cause.27
Relations between Zarqawi and al-
Qaeda, never great, continued to sour until
Zarqawi was killed by U.S. forces in June
2006. Four months later, AQI formally
broke with al-Qaeda and declared itself a
state: the Islamic State in Iraq (al-dawla
al-Islamiyya l-Iraq), or ISI.28 The idea
of a territorial state appears to have taken
root, at least in part, as a solution to the
natural tension that had arisen between
what became the ISI alliance of jihadis and
Iraqi Sunni nationalists: a territorial state
to appease the nationalists, but run under
sharia to appeal to the jihadis.29 However,
without Zarqawi’s charismatic (if thug-
gish) leadership, ISI stagnated, unable to
hold territory and increasingly alienating
the Sunni community it claimed to repre-
sent. U.S. eorts to begin working with
Sunni Arabs in Iraq, particularly tribal
groups, starting in 2007 (broadly lumped
together in American parlance with the
later troop escalation, or “surge”), further
weakened the position of ISI.
Two nearly simultaneous events
reversed ISI’s fortunes. First, Abu Bakr al-
Baghdadi took over ISI in 2010.30 Bagh-
dadi proved a skillful leader, able to rally
his troops and think creatively. Second, by
March 2011 the Arab Spring protests had
come to Syria, rapidly leading to a mili-
tarized response by the regime and, over
time, its loss of control over large swaths
of Syrian territory. It was in this vacuum
that ISI reorganized and recovered from
its near destruction in Iraq. The vehicle
for ISI’s entry into the Syrian conict was
the Nusra Front in Syria (jabhat al-nusra
l-sham); indeed, Baghdadi and Zawahiri
engaged in a public squabble over whom
the Nusra Front belonged to. Having lost
that argument when the head of the Nusra
Front, Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, de-
clared allegiance to al-Qaeda, ISI nev-
ertheless had become powerful enough
to take and hold much of the Euphrates
River valley in eastern Syria in the absence
of government forces. The Nusra Front
concentrated its eorts in the western part
of the country, particularly Homs and Idlib
provinces. Gaining signicant territory in
Syria in 2013 and early 2014 allowed ISI
to declare itself an Islamic state in both
Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
The apex of ISIS history occurred
in June 2014, when its forces rapidly
spread out from its new base in Syria and
took over Iraq’s second city, Mosul, and
much of the territory where Sunni Arabs
held a demographic advantage. On June
29, 2014, from the pulpit of the twelfth-
century Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul,
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi formally declared
the re-establishment of the caliphate and
proclaimed himself the new caliph. The
territorial expansion of ISIS quickly hit its
natural limits — Sunni Arab areas with-
out a meaningful state presence in Iraq
and Syria — and during the ensuing three
years, Iraqi, Kurdish and American forces
slowly drove ISIS back. As of this writ-
ing, it appears likely that ISIS will lose
its territorial caliphate sometime in 2017,
80
Middle East Policy, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Fall 2017
although it will likely continue to exist as a
jihadi group for some time to come.
This brief summary of the develop-
ment of ISIS as the third wave of global
jihad has stressed the dierences between
ISIS and al-Qaeda, even though some of
the roots of ISIS were in al-Qaeda. Those
dierences can be further rened, beyond
personal rivalries and diverging histories,
by focusing on four issues: the nature of
the overarching societal problem faced,
the solution to that problem, the strategy to
achieve the requisite solution, and the orga-
nizational vehicle to carry out that strat-
egy. Al-Qaeda considered the overarch-
ing problem to be the durability of local
apostate regimes that resulted from their
ties to Washington. Al-Qaeda believed that
if those ties were broken and the Americans
driven out, the apostate regimes would
begin to fall. By contrast, ISIS focused on
neither the far enemy nor the takri regime,
but on apostasy itself. According to this
thinking, Muslims cannot be truly Muslim
unless and until they live in an Islamic state
that implements sharia. It was a simple but
appealing argument, much easier to market
and recruit with than an arcane “far enemy”
doctrine. Thus, ISIS focused on the req-
uisites of state creation, a focus al-Qaeda
did not share. However, to the degree that
ISIS concentrated on state-building issues,
it was through a sectarian lens: Shia rule in
Baghdad and Damascus must be replaced
(eventually) by rule by the caliphate.
31
One of the striking things about the Syrian
civil war is just how little ISIS has fought
against Syrian regime forces, preferring to
battle local groups to hold onto territory, its
rst priority.
The second major dierence between
al-Qaeda and ISIS was the solution to the
overarching problem. For al-Qaeda, the
way to make local apostate regimes fall
was to drive out their international support,
the United States. For ISIS, the solution
to societal apostasy was to forcibly purify
society, allowing its members to live pious
lives under sharia.
Those solutions need dierent strate-
gies. For al-Qaeda, the strategy was to
direct violent attacks against American tar-
gets, both civilian and military. For ISIS,
the strategy was to grab and hold territory,
declare a state, and implement true sharia
(or at least the ISIS interpretation of it).
Savage violence was essential to create the
conditions to implement that strategy.
Finally, the organizational form needed
to implement the strategy was completely
dierent. Al-Qaeda saw itself as an elite
vanguard. To al-Qaeda, recruiting the right
types of jihadis was more important than
mass recruitment. By comparison, mass re-
cruitment was the ISIS goal, and its media
production reected it. Baghdadi and oth-
ers routinely put out the call for all Mus-
lims — and especially those with needed
talents — to join them in their caliphate.
ISIS had its leadership stratum, of course,
but saw itself as a mass-based populist
movement, not an elite force.
There are a large number of primary
texts that lay out the ideology (and evo-
lution) of ISIS. Perhaps the three most
important are the 2004 book The Manage-
ment of Savagery (idarat al-tawahhush),
the 2004 letter of allegiance from Zarqawi
to Bin Laden and the 2014 speech by
Baghdadi announcing the caliphate.32 The
Management of Savagery better describes
the strategic use of extreme violence by
ISIS than any other work. For its author,
Abu Bakr Naji (a pseudonym), over-the-
top savagery is needed in order to force the
state to disengage from parts of its claimed
territory. Drawing on the experience of Al-
geria in the 1990s, Naji’s idea was notably
81
Robinson: The Four Waves of Global Jihad
put to use in Iraq, where ISIS (AQI, ISI)
was easily the most vicious in its imple-
mentation of post-2003 violence. Once in
power in its territorial state, ISIS continued
to implement Naji’s call to savagery, as it
served a number of political purposes.
What these documents have in com-
mon (along with other ISIS documents)
is an emphasis on three issues: creating a
territorial state, virulent anti-Shiism and
the use of spectacular violence for politi-
cal ends. These ideological foci strongly
dierentiate the third wave of global jihad
from the rst two. The most important
point was the push for a territorial state
as soon as possible. Other jihadi groups,
even those that support a new caliphate in
theory (most view it as an inevitable step
in the future), have been reticent to declare
a caliphate, primarily because if it were to
be defeated and disappear, it would consti-
tute a historical disaster for the movement,
likely setting it back decades. Al-Qaeda
warned ISIS against declaring a caliph-
ate for exactly this reason. However, once
ISIS had declared it, to great excitement
in some quarters, al-Qaeda responded,
falsely, that it had already declared a new
caliphate earlier.
The emphasis on immediately declar-
ing a territorial state as the central necessi-
ty of jihad dates back to Zarqawi, although
he was killed just months before the rst
declaration of a new state was made in
2006. As ISIS’s territorial caliphate shrinks
and disappears, its critics will likely have
been proved right about the folly of such a
declaration. Conversely, it may be argued
that the ISIS experience, however heinous
in many ways, put the idea of re-estab-
lishing the Islamic caliphate on the front
burner in the Muslim world. However,
those outside of ISIS who support the idea
would likely attempt to implement it in
a more humane and historically accurate
fashion.
Perhaps what set ISIS apart from its
jihadi competitors was its brilliant market-
ing strategy, making global jihad cool for
the small segment of the world’s popula-
tion it targeted: young, somewhat mar-
ginalized males seeking glory and mean-
ing in their lives.33 Declaring a caliphate
was a stroke of genius, no matter that
every major cleric in the Muslim world
who weighed in on the subject dismissed
Baghdadi’s declaration as wrong-headed
on many dierent levels.34 For market-
ing and recruitment purposes, it was the
sexiest, most outrageous — and most
eective — move Baghdadi could have
made, stirring the imagination of some
Muslims. For young men willing to come
and ght for the caliphate, ISIS promised
a sort of Disneyland for jihadis: innite
thrills from doing outlandish things with
little real-world accountability. The gore-
stained videos that ISIS regularly put out
repulsed most Muslims, but captured the
imagination of just enough of its target
demographic.35 ISIS never sought the ap-
proval of the keepers of Islamic tradition
(the ulama), wanting instead to create its
own imagined history. Even Zarqawi’s
mentor, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, one
of the few clerics with a track record of
supporting jihadi movements, denounced
his former pupil.36 In the end, the ulama
decisively rejected the ISIS program and
its ephemeral caliphate.

The gradual destruction of the ter-
ritorial caliphate in the 2015-17 period
represented the demise of the third wave of
global jihad, even though acts of violence
will no doubt continue to be carried out in
the name of ISIS from time to time. The
82
Middle East Policy, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Fall 2017
quest for and accomplishment of the ter-
ritorial state was the dening characteristic
of the third wave, so its destruction would
represent a mortal blow. It is possible that
a new territory could be found to revive
the caliphate, but, given the ISIS experi-
ence, this is not a likely outcome. In the
aftermath of the Islamic State, global jihad
has moved into its fourth wave, likely to
be its most durable.
The fourth wave of global jihad began
nearly simultaneously with the third,
although it was much more closely linked
with the 2001 defeat of the Taliban in
Afghanistan and the loss of the al-Qaeda
“emirate” there, than with the 2003 Iraq
war. This wave was born of desperation
and defeat, and focused on the idea of
surviving to ght another day. At a time
when global jihad was on the cusp of
elimination, given Osama bin Laden’s
enormous blunder in attacking the United
States, what strategy was needed to keep
hope alive, to keep the movement going
until circumstances improved enough for a
rebirth of global jihad?
It fell primarily to Abu Musab al-Suri
to devise a strategy for desperate times.
Suri, whose birth name was Mustafa
Bin Abd al-Qadir Setmariam Nasar, was
global jihad’s most nimble and widely read
theorist. Born in Aleppo, Suri got his start
in jihadi circles during the Muslim Broth-
erhood’s armed campaign to overthrow
the Syrian regime of Haz al-Assad in the
early 1980s. That eort came to defeat in
1982, when the city of Hama was pulver-
ized by the Syrian army, leading to the
deaths of thousands of Syrians and the
eective surrender of the Muslim Broth-
erhood. Suri escaped Syria for Europe,
ultimately marrying a Spanish woman and
gaining Spanish citizenship, thereafter
splitting his time between Europe and Af-
ghanistan/Pakistan. He remained active in
jihadi circles and is still wanted by Spain
regarding two deadly acts of terror, includ-
ing the 2004 Madrid train bombings that
killed nearly 200 people. Suri was captured
in Pakistan in 2005 and handed over to
the Americans, who reportedly rendered
him to Syria, where he was a wanted man.
While there are numerous Internet rumors
about Suri’s fate, given the absence of reli-
able sightings for over a decade, it is rea-
sonable to conclude that he is now dead.
Suri was among the most prodigious
writers of all the jihadi ideologues. In the
years following the failed uprising in Syria
in the early 1980s, he wrote a 900-page
book (in Arabic) on the “Islamic Revolu-
tion” in Syria that analyzed the reasons for
its failure. It was these “lessons learned”
that he wanted to apply to the global jihad,
in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Suri went
through the same exercise after the fall
of the Taliban and the loss of the jihadi
Islamist emirate in Afghanistan in 2001,
publishing a 1,600-page manifesto on the
Internet, Call to Global Islamic Resistance
(dawat al-muqawama al-islamiyya al-
alamiyya).37 It is this book that forms the
intellectual cornerstone of the fourth wave
of global jihad. What sets Suri apart from
every other jihadi ideologue is his ability
to engage in self-criticism and to call out
mistakes his own movement has made. He
considered Bin Laden’s decision to attack
the United States on September 11, 2001,
to be an error of historical signicance.38
Well-read in literature on guerrilla
warfare, Suri was unusual in drawing on
lessons from outside the Muslim world in
order to inform the global jihad. And the
strategic environment that Suri faced was
not unusual in the annals of the subject:
how to best undertake action following
the defeat of massed, territorial-based
83
Robinson: The Four Waves of Global Jihad
troops? Indeed, it was Suri’s willing-
ness to draw on non-Muslim sources that
further antagonized the purists among
the global jihadis, with whom Suri had
a long-running feud. He coined the term
“Sala-jihadi” and did not use it in a
complimentary fashion. For Suri, among
the principal impediments to the success
of global jihad were puritans who refused
to cooperate with other jihadis if they did
not share absolute agreement on all points
of theology. He witnessed such inex-
ibility among Arab Sala-jihadis ghting
in Afghanistan, who refused to cooperate
with the Taliban because they viewed them
as not suciently Muslim. The Taliban,
like most Pushtun Muslims in Afghanistan,
incorporate elements of the ancient tribal
code of pushtunwali in their understanding
and practice of Islam, a practice foreign
to other Muslims. Suri stressed the impor-
tance of strategic cooperation among dif-
ferent jihadi groups, even when there were
minor points of theological or ideological
dierence, advice he was never particu-
larly successful at convincing puritanical
Sala-jihadis to follow. 39
Much in Suri’s arguments is common
to other global jihadis, particularly those
of the al-Qaeda strain. He believed that
there is, in fact, a global war against Islam
led by the United States, designed to keep
the Muslim world weak and to plunder
its resources. Suri argued that violence
is a necessary central feature of resisting
the war on Islam, and that such “military
operations” must include attacks on civil-
ians. Indeed, there is a ritualistic nature
to Suri’s call for violence, reminiscent of
Franz Fanon’s argument in The Wretched
of the Earth about the cleansing quality
of killing one’s oppressor with one’s own
hands, to feel his blood on your skin.40 It
is quite likely that Suri had read Fanon’s
work about the Algerian revolution against
France, as he closely followed the later
civil war in Algeria in the 1990s. Spec-
tacular and gory violence and its ritual
importance were central to Suri’s ideas on
how the global jihad should be waged and
have impacted ISIS thinking as well. Other
parts of his arguments are likewise famil-
iar, including his agreement with Abdullah
Azzam (whom he knew) that global jihadis
must avoid the temptation to indulge in
takr, ghting fellow Muslims through the
threat of excommunication. He also shared
the common jihadi contempt for the ulama,
for their role in weakening the Muslim um-
mah over many decades, even centuries.
Suri’s strategy for the survival of global
jihad in desperate times, of keeping hope
alive, focused primarily on three elements.
First, he believed that the global jihad had
entered a period of jihad fardi or “personal
jihad.” The idea has entered the English
language as “leaderless jihad.”
41
Because
the Afghan emirate had been lost, and
thus the critical aspect of territoriality of
the movement was gone for the foresee-
able future, it was important for individual
Muslims and groups of like-minded jihadis
to undertake small-scale violence around
the world in the name of global jihad. Suri
realized that such pinprick attacks would
not by themselves pose an existential or
even a strategic threat to the United States
and its allies. However, such attacks could
keep fear alive in the minds of the enemy
and would encourage other Muslims to
undertake similar attacks, always under the
banner of global jihad. Such “lone wolf”
and small-cell attacks are virtually impos-
sible to entirely stop. In fact, many such
small-scale attacks in the name of global
jihad have been successfully undertaken in
Europe, the United States, Canada and else-
where in the years since Suri’s call to arms
84
Middle East Policy, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Fall 2017
was published.
42
Suri was correct, it seems,
in suggesting that, while such attacks
objectively pose little signicant strategic
threat, they do generate an outsized fear in
many victimized nations, thereby keeping
the hope of global jihad alive for the future.
The second critical feature for Suri was
the use of the media and new information
technologies. He was the rst major jihadi
ideologue to recognize the power of the
Internet and call on jihadis to take full ad-
vantage of it. While global jihad was a se-
rious business, its marketing needed to be
hip and savvy, appealing to a younger gen-
eration of Muslims in ways that stultify-
ing speeches by Ayman al-Zawahiri could
never accomplish. While Suri disappeared
from the scene years before ISIS was able
to establish a territorial state, the ISIS mar-
keting department certainly learned from
Suri’s arguments. Its vivid and gory videos
of executions and battleeld exploits were
celebrations of the type of media work
Suri envisioned. As well, it was critical for
individuals and small cells embarking on a
personal jihad of violence to leave messag-
ing behind to insure that people knew their
violence was not random criminality but,
rather, global jihad.
Third, in the absence of a territorial
state (which remained a long-term goal
for Suri), individual jihadis should remain
linked together in a virtual network made
possible by new information technolo-
gies.43 The Internet and other media are not
only useful in marketing jihad, but in or-
ganizing it as well, keeping jihadis linked
together and learning from each other,
even in the absence of a central hub. The
al-Qaeda jihadi ideologue Anwar al-Awla-
ki demonstrated the role the Internet could
play in linking together fellow jihadis and
radicalizing them virtually. Awlaki, the
most important global jihadi ideologue in
the English-speaking world and an Ameri-
can citizen, was killed in Yemen in 2011 in
a U.S. drone strike.
The era of “personal jihad” was par-
tially absorbed by ISIS, particularly as the
territory under its control shrank. As the
caliphate came under increasing pressure,
ISIS called on all followers to engage
in the type of violent personal jihads for
which Suri had given an ideological and
strategic foundation. Most of the 140
terror attacks conducted or inspired by
ISIS from June 2014 to February 2017 t
the Suri model of individual or small-cell
operations.44 While such personal-jihad
tactics have been adopted by ISIS, they are
not fundamentally linked to its fortunes.
Personal-jihad attacks are not foundational
to the notion of an ISIS caliphate, nor
will the likely disappearance of the ISIS
caliphate mean the end of such attacks.
The messaging of many acts of jihad al-
fardi in the West have included reference
to ISIS or have been claimed by ISIS,
but the two phenomena are not the same.
Personal jihad in the Suri framework will
long outlast the territorial state of ISIS and
even the group itself as it transforms into
a “regular” jihad organization.45 Because
of both the pervasiveness of new media
and the diculty of detecting all acts
of personal jihad in advance, this fourth
wave of global jihad will likely prove to
be the most durable. It represents more of
a deadly nuisance that will murder people
from time to time than a strategic threat,
but it is already proving to be exception-
ally dicult to stop.46

This essay makes three broad argu-
ments. First, a distinct oshoot of the
broader jihadi movement emerged in the
1980s that made global claims and had a
85
Robinson: The Four Waves of Global Jihad
global reach. Prior to this point, the various
jihadi groups — those militants who used
violence to advance their political agenda
under the banner of Islam — that had aris-
en in the 1960s and 1970s were focused
primarily or even exclusively on local
issues, mostly local regime change. The
Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghan-
istan in December 1979 was the precipitat-
ing event that gave birth to the global-jihad
strand of thinking and organizing.
The second and larger claim in this
essay is to argue for a reconceptualiza-
tion of the global jihad into four distinct
waves, each coming out of a specic crisis,
each with its own distinct ideological
arguments, and each producing particular
strategic goals and organizational forms.
Borrowing from the Communist experi-
ence, I describe the rst wave as that of
the Jihadi International, a global band of
mujahidin that would ght around the
world in concert with local Muslims to lib-
erate occupied Muslim lands. The Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan gave birth to this
model, which essentially died out by 1990
with the death of Abdullah Azzam and the
failure of the model to be applied to Ku-
wait after Iraq’s invasion and occupation.
The second wave of global jihad, America
First, was birthed by Osama bin Laden
beginning around 1996, as “near enemy”
regimes proved to be durable in the face of
jihadi pressure.
The essential defeat of al-Qaeda in
Afghanistan by 2002 following the attacks
of 9/11 left the hollow shell of a central or-
ganization, which continued to limp along
until Bin Laden’s death in 2011. Militants
allied with al-Qaeda then focused over-
whelmingly on local conicts, in Syria and
elsewhere. The Caliphate Now! third wave
of global jihad arose from experiences in
Iraq following the U.S. invasion in 2003
and blossomed with the ungoverned spaces
allowed by the Syrian civil war. The focus
on creating a territorial Islamic state im-
mediately made the ISIS wave both unique
and vulnerable, with the end of the territo-
rial “caliphate” likely to be realized during
2017. The fourth wave, Personal Jihad,
was the brainchild of Abu Musab al-Suri
as he witnessed the destruction of the
“Islamic emirate” in Afghanistan and the
killing or capture of many of the leaders
of the global-jihad movement. Networked,
small-scale, media-savvy attacks around
the world were his best means to keep
hope alive during a period of defeat.
The third broad claim in this essay is
that the fourth wave of global jihad is a
more durable form of organization and
violence likely to be around for many
years to come. Small-scale attacks can be
murderous, to be sure, but do not constitute
either an existential threat or even much of
a strategic threat to the West. Their ability
to create havoc is more of a challenge to
local countries in the Muslim world, but
even there, sober perspective is needed to
assess actual levels of threat. The only re-
ally plausible route for global jihad to rise
to the level of strategic threat is for major
powers to respond poorly, to over-react,
thereby polarizing relations between the
West and the Muslim world. In the words
of ISIS, such polarization would help re-
move the “gray zone” and make the strate-
gic context more suitable to jihadi goals.47
This was a classic Vanguard/Leninist tactic
to provoke the state into over-reaction, but
one that has rarely worked well in practice.
The four waves of global jihad each
arose out of a specic crisis. The waves
themselves represent one response to each
of those crises and are not part of some
broader grand conspiracy of stages. To
be sure, those conspiracies of stages do
86
Middle East Policy, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Fall 2017
exist in the fertile minds of some jihadi
ideologues, including Abu Bakr Naji in
his Management of Savagery, mentioned
above.48 But global jihad is, at base, a rela-
tively marginal movement that simply does
not have the power to force a specic evo-
lution of history to its benet and ultimate
victory. The totality of all global jihadi
ghters in these four waves numbered
fewer than 100,000 men, about the size of
one small city in the Muslim world. The
outsized attention that global jihadis have
generated over the past four decades de-
rives both from their own acts of spectacle
and violence, and from the power of the
information revolution around the world to
unduly glamorize political murder.
1 A good introduction to the life and thought of Hasan al-Banna can be found in Gudrun Kramer, Hasan al-
Banna (OneWorld Publications, 2009).
2 The earliest extensive study of the Muslim Brotherhood was Richard P. Mitchell’s classic book The Society
of the Muslim Brothers (Oxford University Press, 1969). For an excellent recent history of the Muslim
Brotherhood, see Carrie Rosefsky Wickam, The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement
(Princeton University Press, 2013). The best analysis of the early years of the organization can be found in
Brynjar Lia, The Society of Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise of an Islamic Movement, 1928-1942 (Ithaca
Press, 1999).
3 Violence by the Muslim Brotherhood was in any case more broadly used against colonial powers than
against local regimes, particularly postcolonial regimes.
4 The Arabic word “jihad” comes from the verb jahad, “to exert an eort,” and is a commonly used word out-
side of any religious context. In contemporary orthodox Islam, the religious meaning of jihad has two forms:
the “greater jihad” to resist temptations and lead a good and pious life, and the “lesser jihad,” or jihad of the
sword (jihad al-sayf), which is the armed defense of the Muslim community or its lands. An armed jihad may
only be called for by a religiously qualied individual. In their stressing of armed jihad over all else, in their
appropriating the credentials to call for jihad, and in their expansive understanding of the nature of armed
jihad, the ideologues studied in this essay do not take an orthodox view of jihad.
5 Milestones is widely available online, both in the original Arabic and in English translation.
6 Qutb was a prolic and inuential writer even before his political radicalization in prison, and many of his
books have been translated into English, including In the Shade of the Qur’an, Social Justice in Islam, The
Islamic Concept and Its Characteristics, Basic Principles of the Islamic Worldview and his autobiographi-
cal A Child from the Village. The best study of Qutb is John Calvert, Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Islamic
Radicalism (Oxford University Press, 2009).
7 The lectures, with annotation, can be found in Hamid Algar, Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declara-
tions of Imam Khomeini (Mizan Press, 1981).
8 For a good biography of Shariati and his ideas, see Ali Rahnema, An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography
of Ali Shariati (IB Tauris, 2014).
9 The literature on Islamism and its jihadi oshoot is extensive. A good place to start is Gilles Kepel, Jihad:
The Trail of Political Islam (Belknap Press, 2003).
10 Faraj was the principal ideologue of the group that assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
It was Faraj who coined the now-common dichotomy between a “near enemy” and a “far enemy” in his book
The Hidden Obligation (al-farida al-gha’iba). This book has been translated into English in Johannes J.G.
Jansen, The Neglected Duty: The Creed of Sadat’s Assassins and Islamic Resurgence in the Middle East (Mc-
Millan, 1986). See also Fawaz A. Gerges, The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global (Cambridge University
Press, second edition 2009).
11 “Solid base” — qaidat sulba — is one translation of “al-Qaeda” and is the original meaning of the term
in jihadi circles. It is the Arabic phrase that I am translating as Jihadi International, in order to capture its
meaning in a broader comparative political sense; that is, a sort of jihadi equivalent to the old Communist
87
Robinson: The Four Waves of Global Jihad
International, or Comintern, which sought to advance Communism globally “by all available means,” includ-
ing violence. A parallel use of the word al-Qaeda during the 1980s was qa’idat al-ma’lumat, which referred
to the database of foreign ghters who had enlisted to ght in Afghanistan.
12 An excellent introduction to Azzam’s life and writings is “Abdallah Azzam,” by Thomas Hegghammer, in
Al Qaeda in Its Own Words, eds. Gilles Kepel and Jean-Pierre Milelli (Belknap Press, 2008). Hegghammer is
currently working on a biography of Azzam, which is sure to be the best source on his life.
13 Robert Springborg has suggested that Azzam’s focus on territorial liberation may have reected his Pal-
estinian origins and the Palestinian struggle to liberate their historical territory; similarly, Bin Laden’s later
focus on Saudi Arabia may have reected the importance of his upbringing in Jeddah. The same may be said
for Ayman al-Zawahiri, in that his arguments in favor of takr could be viewed as a cover for his deep-seated
desire to overthrow the regime in Egypt, which had jailed him. In each of these cases, there may well have
been a tactical or even psychological dimension to the broader strategic arguments made by these ideologues.
Private communication.
14 It is not clear who was behind the assassination of Azzam, and there is a long list of the “usual suspects.”
The two most credible theories of responsibility revolve around Pakistan’s military intelligence (ISI) and the
factional struggle within al-Qaeda between Azzam and Zawahiri.
15 There is debate about the extent of Bin Laden’s involvement in Somalia during the early 1990s, includ-
ing in the “Black Hawk Down” incident. Bin Laden claimed to Peter Bergen that he and allied Arab jihadis
played a role, but no real evidence has been produced to corroborate the claim. See Peter L. Bergen, Holy
War Inc.: Inside the Secret War of Osama Bin Laden (Touchstone, 2002).
16 Kepel takes up the decline narrative in the 1990s in his Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam.
17 For an excellent discussion of the concerns about the stability of the Egyptian regime at the time, see the
article by “Cassandra” (a pseudonym adopted by a senior American scholar of the region), “The Impending
Crisis in Egypt,” Middle East Journal 49, no. 1 (Winter 1995).
18 The renunciation of violence by Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (“Dr. Fadl”) was particularly germane, as he had
been a close associate of Ayman al-Zawahiri and an important ideologue of global jihad. While in prison, he
wrote Wathiqat Tarshid al-’Aml al-Jihadi  Misr w’al-’Alam (roughly, Guidance on the Proper Place of Jihad
in Egypt and the World) in which he strongly criticized the ways in which he and other jihadis had misused
violence. Sharif became a target of criticism in jihadi circles as a result. The renunciation of violence by the
Islamic Group can be found in translation, with an excellent introduction by Sherman A. Jackson, in Initiative
to Stop the Violence (Mubadarat Waqf al-‘Unf) (Yale University Press, 2015).
19 For more on the Algerian civil war, see Luis Martinez, The Algerian Civil War, 1990-1998 (Columbia
University Press, 2000). For an interesting account of the “lessons learned” from the violence in the Algerian
civil war, see Jacob Mundy, Imaginative Geographies of Algerian Violence: Conict Science, Conict Man-
agement, Antipolitics (Stanford University Press, 2015).
20 Ironically, the Sunni jihadi Bin Laden’s strategy of driving the United States out of the region in many ways
mirrored the post-revolutionary Shia regime in Tehran’s regional strategy as well.
21 See Jansen, The Neglected Duty, esp. 192-93.
22 The original Arabic text was printed in Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper on February 23, 1998. There are many
English language translations, including here: https://fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm.
23 The best discussion of the rise of al-Qaeda in Yemen is by Gregory D. Johnsen, The Last Refuge: Yemen,
al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia (W.W. Norton, 2014).
24 See Hugh Kennedy, Caliphate: The History of an Idea (Basic Books, 2016).
25 Cole Bunzel, The Kingdom and the Caliphate: Duel of the Islamic States (Carnegie Endowment for Inter-
national Peace, February 2016). See as well Bunzel’s paper for the Brookings Institution: From Paper State
to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State (March 2015).
26 The lower estimate can be found in Sean C. Reynolds and Mohammed M. Hafez, “Social Network Analysis
of German Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq” in Terrorism and Political Violence, published online Febru-
ary 14, 2017, 1. The higher estimate can be found in Robin Wright, “Does the Manchester Attack Show the
Islamic State’s Strength or Weakness?” New Yorker online, May 24, 2017.
27 Zawahiri’s letter to Zarqawi in the original Arabic can be found here: https://www.ctc.usma.edu/v2/wp-
content/uploads/2013/10/Zawahiris-Letter-to-Zarqawi-Original.pdf. An English translation can be found here:
https://www.ctc.usma.edu/v2/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Zawahiris-Letter-to-Zarqawi-Translation.pdf.
88
Middle East Policy, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Fall 2017
28 Not to be confused with Pakistan’s military intelligence service, noted earlier.
29 This insight comes from Mohammed Hafez in a private correspondence.
30 Baghdadi is his nom de guerre. Baghdadi’s birth name was Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali Muhammad al-
Badri al-Samarrai. After the declaration of the caliphate, Baghdadi went by “Caliph Ibrahim.” An excellent
account of the formation of ISIS, and particularly its use of apocalyptic traditions in Islam to recruit and mo-
bilize, can be found in William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision
of the Islamic State (St. Martin’s Press, 2015).
31 Although the ruling Baath party in Syria is secular, the regime is dominated by members of the Alawi sect
of Islam, a Shia oshoot. ISIS routinely referred to the “Nusayri” regime, an insulting reference to Alawis.
32 The Management of Savagery can be found here: https://azelin.les.wordpress.com/2010/08/abu-bakr-naji-
the-management-of-savagery-the-most-critical-stage-through-which-the-umma-will-pass.pdf. Excerpts in
English from Zarqawi’s letter may be found in Kepel and Milelli, Al Qaeda in Its Own Words, 251-267. The
complete letter, albeit with a poor translation, can be found here: https://2001-2009.state.gov/p/nea/rls/31694.
htm.The ocial text of Baghdadi’s speech was released by ISIS under the title This Is the Promise of Allah,
and can be found in English here: https://ia902505.us.archive.org/28/items/poa_25984/EN.pdf.
33 The Reynolds and Hafez article on “Social Network Analysis” discusses social background considerations.
34 See, for example, the letter from ulama denouncing the declaration, found here: http://www.lettertobagh-
dadi.com.
35 Polling data routinely showed support for ISIS among Muslims in the single digits. See http://www.pewre-
search.org/fact-tank/2015/11/17/in-nations-with-signicant-muslim-populations-much-disdain-for-isis.
36 The best account of Maqdisi is Joas Wagemakers, A Quietist Jihad: The Ideology and Inuence of Abu
Muhammad al-Maqdisi (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
37 Suri’s long (and quite repetitive) treatise can be found in full on the Internet in the original Arabic, but has
not been fully translated into English. Brynjar Lia provides a good translation of key excerpts in his Architect
of Global Jihad: The Life of al-Qaida Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri (Columbia University Press, 2008). Jim
Lacy also provides a partial translation in his A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-
Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto (Naval Institute Press, 2008).
38 The best work on Suri is by Brynjar Lia, especially his Architect of Global Jihad, including Suri’s criti-
cisms of Bin Laden’s strategy.
39 For an excellent discussion of Suri’s feud with puritanical Salas, see Brynjar Lia, “Destructive Doctrinar-
ians: Abu Mus’ab al-Suri’s Critique of the Salas in the Jihadi Current,” in Global Salasm: Islam’s New
Religious Movement, ed. Roel Meijar (Columbia University Press, 2009).
40 Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Grove Press, 1963).
41 For an early example of this, see Marc Sageman’s excellent analysis Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in
the Twenty-First Century (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).
42 It should always be remembered that global jihadis have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims.
43 This form of informational and networked warfare was rst made famous by John Arquilla and David
Ronfeldt in “Cyberwar Is Coming!” Comparative Strategy 12, no. 2 (Spring 1993).
44 http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/17/world/mapping-isis-attacks-around-the-world/index.html.
45 But even as ISIS normalizes into a more generic jihad organization, it will likely remain able to carry out
deadly terror attacks as the root causes of Sunni alienation in Iraq and Syria will almost certainly be ignored
by the regimes in Baghdad and Damascus. For more on post-caliphate terror by ISIS, see Seth G. Jones et al.,
Rolling Back the Islamic State (RAND, 2017) and Robin Wright et al., The Jihadi Threat: ISIS, al-Qaeda and
Beyond (USIP and the Wilson Center, December 2016/January 2017).
46 A smart article on how to deal with this form of violence can be found in Daniel Byman, “How to Hunt a
Lone Wolf: Countering Terrorists Who Act on Their Own,” Foreign Aairs (March/April 2017).
47 For ISIS’s discussion on the “gray zone,” see its propaganda publication Dabiq, Issue 7, “From Hypocrisy
to Apostasy: The Extinction of the Gray Zone,” hosted by the Clarion Project at https://clarionproject.org/
docs/islamic-state-dabiq-magazine-issue-7-from-hypocrisy-to-apostasy.pdf.
48 See also Brian Fishman, The Master Plan: ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory (Yale
University Press, 2016).
... Within Salafi jihadist circles, one of the most important and well-known thinkers who stressed the role of this violent and revolutionary Jihad was Sayyid Qutb , an educated Egyptian government official who became one of the most influential Islamist ideologues in the post-colonial Sunni world (Brachman, 2008: 23 & Calvert, 2010. Through his famous works, he exerted a massive influence on both his surroundings back in his own days as for the generations that followed, even providing intellectual foundations for the contemporary jihadist movement (Robinson, 2017: 70 & Calvert, 2010. Qutb was the one who shifted the target of Jihad, strategically changing the jihadist movement's direction and focus (Gerges, 2005: 5). ...
... This global jihadist movement appeared as a new generation of jihadis in the 1980s, more specifically after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and thus represents a relatively recent phenomenon (Robinson, 2017: 71 & Hegghammer, 2006. This generation of militant Islamists felt estranged and alienated from their secular sociopolitical orders and threatened by rising globalization and westernization, which is why they decided to internationalize Jihad and export the revolution worldwide (Gerges, 2005: 1&12). ...
... Hence, many terroristic attacks were launched directly on Western targets around the world, mostly led by the infamous al-Qaeda network (Hegghammer, 2006: 13). Robinson (2017) argues that this global Jihad can be divided into four distinct waves, every wave representing a specific reaction to a context of crisis and each one creating a new particular thought that defined the concept of global Jihad further and contributed to the development of the movement into what it is today. A more extensive outline and detailed description of this division and the history of global Jihad will be elaborated on in chapter two and four. ...
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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.
which sought to advance Communism globally "by all available means," including violence. A parallel use of the word al-Qaeda during the 1980s was qa'idat al-ma'lumat, which referred to the database of foreign fighters who had enlisted to fight in Afghanistan
  • Or International
  • Comintern
International, or Comintern, which sought to advance Communism globally "by all available means," including violence. A parallel use of the word al-Qaeda during the 1980s was qa'idat al-ma'lumat, which referred to the database of foreign fighters who had enlisted to fight in Afghanistan. 12
There is debate about the extent of Bin Laden's involvement in Somalia during the early 1990s, including in the "Black Hawk Down" incident. Bin Laden claimed to Peter Bergen that he and allied Arab jihadis played a role, but no real evidence has been produced to corroborate the claim
There is debate about the extent of Bin Laden's involvement in Somalia during the early 1990s, including in the "Black Hawk Down" incident. Bin Laden claimed to Peter Bergen that he and allied Arab jihadis played a role, but no real evidence has been produced to corroborate the claim. See Peter L. Bergen, Holy War Inc.: Inside the Secret War of Osama Bin Laden (Touchstone, 2002).
For an excellent discussion of the concerns about the stability of the Egyptian regime at the time, see the article by "Cassandra" (a pseudonym adopted by a senior American scholar of the region), "The Impending Crisis in Egypt
For an excellent discussion of the concerns about the stability of the Egyptian regime at the time, see the article by "Cassandra" (a pseudonym adopted by a senior American scholar of the region), "The Impending Crisis in Egypt," Middle East Journal 49, no. 1 (Winter 1995).
For an interesting account of the "lessons learned" from the violence in the Algerian civil war, see Jacob Mundy, Imaginative Geographies of Algerian Violence: Conflict Science
  • Luis See
  • Martinez
For more on the Algerian civil war, see Luis Martinez, The Algerian Civil War, 1990-1998 (Columbia University Press, 2000). For an interesting account of the "lessons learned" from the violence in the Algerian civil war, see Jacob Mundy, Imaginative Geographies of Algerian Violence: Conflict Science, Conflict Management, Antipolitics (Stanford University Press, 2015).
Bin Laden's strategy of driving the United States out of the region in many ways mirrored the post-revolutionary Shia regime in Tehran's regional strategy as well
  • Sunni Ironically
  • Jihadi
Ironically, the Sunni jihadi Bin Laden's strategy of driving the United States out of the region in many ways mirrored the post-revolutionary Shia regime in Tehran's regional strategy as well.
The Neglected Duty, esp
  • See Jansen
See Jansen, The Neglected Duty, esp. 192-93.
See as well Bunzel's paper for the Brookings Institution: From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State
  • Cole Bunzel
Cole Bunzel, The Kingdom and the Caliphate: Duel of the Islamic States (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 2016). See as well Bunzel's paper for the Brookings Institution: From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State (March 2015).
Social Network Analysis of German Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq" in Terrorism and Political Violence, published online February 14, 2017, 1. The higher estimate can be found in Robin Wright
The lower estimate can be found in Sean C. Reynolds and Mohammed M. Hafez, "Social Network Analysis of German Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq" in Terrorism and Political Violence, published online February 14, 2017, 1. The higher estimate can be found in Robin Wright, "Does the Manchester Attack Show the Islamic State's Strength or Weakness?" New Yorker online, May 24, 2017.