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The Master Plan: ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory

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An incisive narrative history of the Islamic State, from the 2005 master plan to reestablish the Caliphate to its quest for Final Victory in 2020 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 An incisive narrative history of the Islamic State, from the 2005 master plan to reestablish the Caliphate to its quest for Final Victory in 2020 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.


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An incisive narrative history of the Islamic State, from the 2005 master plan to reestablish the Caliphate to its quest for Final Victory in 2020 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 An incisive narrative history of the Islamic State, from the 2005 master plan to reestablish the Caliphate to its quest for Final Victory in 2020 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.

30 review for The Master Plan: ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I was already a big Fishman Fan (Fishfan?) before I read this book. He is the scholar whose work I turned to when I was unexpectedly put on the Iraq file - about a year before ISIL exploded on the scene in 2014. Back then his papers on "Zarqawiism" were all-important, necessary reading to get a grip on what was taking place. (Gee, why are they "breaking the walls"?) This book puts Fishman's expertise on full display. Unfortunately, that means it's probably not for ISIL beginners. Rather, (and bef I was already a big Fishman Fan (Fishfan?) before I read this book. He is the scholar whose work I turned to when I was unexpectedly put on the Iraq file - about a year before ISIL exploded on the scene in 2014. Back then his papers on "Zarqawiism" were all-important, necessary reading to get a grip on what was taking place. (Gee, why are they "breaking the walls"?) This book puts Fishman's expertise on full display. Unfortunately, that means it's probably not for ISIL beginners. Rather, (and befitting its university press status) it is for those who have some background in the group and Islamist militancy/jihadist networks generally. Also, because of the sheer amount of information in the book, it is not a quick read. (McCant's "ISIS Apocalypse" or Burke's "The New Threat" would be a good place to start and a complementary read before this one.) Nevertheless, for those who really want to know where ISIL came from, how it got to where it is, and where it may be headed, this book is essential. Fishman's overview highlights the movement's strengths, (networked resiliency, steadfast commitment to "remain" in whatever form) and weaknesses (a movement that values violence over wisdom is not stable) which give the reader a good understanding of what may be coming in the years ahead as the so-called Caliphate loses its territory. The book ends on a pessimistic note - Fishman observes that the West focuses too much on ISIL's tactics and operations to see that it is actually losing ground, but that the focus on the crumbling Caliphate means we ignore just how big of a problem global jihadism has become. When Al Qaeda attacked US embassies in Africa in 1998, that movement was only around 200 self-consciously elite militants. Today, however, there are jihadist groups all over the world, with tens of thousands of followers. This remains an extremely small fraction of the world's Muslims population, but clearly there are more challenges ahead - all the more reason to read this excellent, nuanced book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ed Kohinke sr.

    I "read" this audio book thinking it would be easier to listen than to read up on a subject about which I knew nothing. Well, it wasn't easy, in fact, it was almost painful for two reasons: I had no idea that our latest enemy is so gruesomely determined to take over the world; and, I had to work my way through countless names, acronyms, and other abbreviations that still make little sense to me. And listening to this in my car while driving around focused on the road didn't make things any easie I "read" this audio book thinking it would be easier to listen than to read up on a subject about which I knew nothing. Well, it wasn't easy, in fact, it was almost painful for two reasons: I had no idea that our latest enemy is so gruesomely determined to take over the world; and, I had to work my way through countless names, acronyms, and other abbreviations that still make little sense to me. And listening to this in my car while driving around focused on the road didn't make things any easier. It was not a "good read"! Having said that, I would say that this or some other opus on ISIS is a must read for any thinking person nowadays, a task that falls under the heading of "know your enemy". I plan to get a hard copy of this book and do a re-read in the near future in the hope that I will understand and retain more now that I've heard it. Again, if like me you know little or nothing about ISIS, this book is a good place to start.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Austin

    The best open source analysis of the history, operations and individuals of ISIS. The Master Plan is essential reading to understand the true threat Jihadi's pose to America and the world. The best open source analysis of the history, operations and individuals of ISIS. The Master Plan is essential reading to understand the true threat Jihadi's pose to America and the world.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm Stewart

    This is an interesting book. It speaks to the history of one of the most violent and potent terrorist groups of our age, and in doing so presents some incredibly important observations for anyone considering IS-related policy moving forward. Of course, it has its flaws. The centrality of the ‘master plan’ is rather contrived, and it becomes clear as one reads that it is merely a device used to attract readership and then move the narrative forward. Frequently, Fishman references how aspects of th This is an interesting book. It speaks to the history of one of the most violent and potent terrorist groups of our age, and in doing so presents some incredibly important observations for anyone considering IS-related policy moving forward. Of course, it has its flaws. The centrality of the ‘master plan’ is rather contrived, and it becomes clear as one reads that it is merely a device used to attract readership and then move the narrative forward. Frequently, Fishman references how aspects of the plan came to fruition — even though the plan itself was not followed. He speculates often as to whether central figures in the history of jihad in the last thirty years have followed this plan, but most often concludes it was mere coincidence. Does that damn this book? No. Overall, The Master Plan is an intriguing foray into the rise of the Islamic State group, its successes and failures, and even what can be done to address it effectively. (Spoiler alert, the status quo isn’t working.) I recommend this read, but with a healthy dose of skepticism.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Murphy

    The Master Plan: ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory by Brian Fishman is a very capable overview of the historical and political narrative behind the formation of ISIS and what its overall objectives are. Its a useful text, though it is starting to show its age and therefore cannot receive a full endorsement. Still, if you're a researcher in this field, or simply want to know more about the hideous group, this is a good place to look. Some of his observations are prescient, The Master Plan: ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory by Brian Fishman is a very capable overview of the historical and political narrative behind the formation of ISIS and what its overall objectives are. Its a useful text, though it is starting to show its age and therefore cannot receive a full endorsement. Still, if you're a researcher in this field, or simply want to know more about the hideous group, this is a good place to look. Some of his observations are prescient, and have been well born out by the course of events. Black Flags and the ISIS Apocalypse are better, but this fits well within the overall framework - at least for another 5 years, until it gets replaced by a more modern, holistic, and comprehensive take which can use hindsight to craft a fuller, less temporally compromised, work. 88/100

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ruici Tio

    Though this was a great overview of the genesis of a terror organization that's not going away anytime soon. The historical context of how ISIS ideology emerged from the jihad conflict in Afghanistan '79 provides a critical framework to understanding what we ought to expect on how the wide variety of actors - including government, media, visit society - can/should respond to the threat. How we deal with this threat will have ramifications for generations to come, not just politically and militar Though this was a great overview of the genesis of a terror organization that's not going away anytime soon. The historical context of how ISIS ideology emerged from the jihad conflict in Afghanistan '79 provides a critical framework to understanding what we ought to expect on how the wide variety of actors - including government, media, visit society - can/should respond to the threat. How we deal with this threat will have ramifications for generations to come, not just politically and militarily, but also on how we deal with free speech and citizenship.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    This is a good read to understand ISIS from the beginning. I Recommend taking on some initial research of the primary leadership and founders of ISIS to help provide perspective throughout the story.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Jacobs

    Should have read this long ago.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    One of the best books on ISIS, full stop. If you're interested in where the group came from and where it is headed, read Brian Fishman's tour de force. One of the best books on ISIS, full stop. If you're interested in where the group came from and where it is headed, read Brian Fishman's tour de force.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    The author provides a fascinating well researched history of the various individuals and disparate jihadi groups involved in planning and executing terrorist activity, mainly from the late 20th century to the present day. The narrative coincides with their 7 point Master Plan ranging from 2000 to 2020. I found the text fairly heavy going, particularly in view of the utter complexity of the many relationships involved – and the proliferation of unpronounceable multi-hyphenated names of the many Mi The author provides a fascinating well researched history of the various individuals and disparate jihadi groups involved in planning and executing terrorist activity, mainly from the late 20th century to the present day. The narrative coincides with their 7 point Master Plan ranging from 2000 to 2020. I found the text fairly heavy going, particularly in view of the utter complexity of the many relationships involved – and the proliferation of unpronounceable multi-hyphenated names of the many Middle Eastern participants (with 29 of these summarised at the beginning), Four pages of notes may be helpful to readers who wish to study the history in more detail. It is outwith my ability to try and summarise this excellent book, so I recommend it as informative reading for people of all religions, including none, so that readers may draw their own conclusions.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Todd

    The author does a great job of illustrating the split of al-Qaeda and ISI [formally AQI and now better known as ISIL]. The book does exactly what it sets out to do: tracks the progression of al-Qaeda, the genesis of ISIL, and the timeline of the resulting Caliphate. It's an easy read and I would definitely recommend it. The only negative is the numerous names/aliases of key individuals is hard to keep track of but I believe this to be a product of the subject matter and not a reflection on the a The author does a great job of illustrating the split of al-Qaeda and ISI [formally AQI and now better known as ISIL]. The book does exactly what it sets out to do: tracks the progression of al-Qaeda, the genesis of ISIL, and the timeline of the resulting Caliphate. It's an easy read and I would definitely recommend it. The only negative is the numerous names/aliases of key individuals is hard to keep track of but I believe this to be a product of the subject matter and not a reflection on the author.

  12. 5 out of 5

    A

  13. 4 out of 5

    Efil

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bunza

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bjørn Borud

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Castley

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cory Dupont

  19. 4 out of 5

    Becky Dale

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alex A.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Akum

  22. 5 out of 5

    Medeni

  23. 5 out of 5

    Vlad Chiorean

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marcel Brussee

  26. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ed Budden

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas O'Neill

  29. 4 out of 5

    David Firester

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jen Hill

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