International jihad has undergone a wholesale internal revolution in recent years. The dramatic emergence of the Islamic State (IS) and its proclamation of a Caliphate means that the world no longer faces one Sunni jihadi threat, but two, as IS and al-Qaida compete on the global stage. What is the relationship between the groups and how do their models differ? Is IS’s rapid organizational expansion sustainable? Can al-Qaida adapt and respond?
In a new Brookings Doha Center Analysis Paper, Charles Lister explores al-Qaida and IS’s respective evolutions and strategies. He argues that al-Qaida and its affiliates are now playing a long game by seeking to build alliances and develop deep roots within unstable and repressed societies. IS, on the other hand, looks to destabilize local dynamics so it can quickly seize control over territory.
Lister finds that the competition between IS and al-Qaida for jihadi supremacy will continue, and will likely include more terrorist attacks on the West. Accordingly, he calls for the continued targeting of al-Qaida leaders, the disruption of jihadi financial activities, and greater domestic intelligence and counter-radicalization efforts. Lister concludes, however, that state instability across the Muslim world must be addressed or jihadis will continue to thrive.