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ISIS' Blueprint

The Second Life of an al Qaeda Proposal

An ISIS militant making an announcement in Tabqa, Syria, August 2014. STRINGER / REUTERS

The massacre of innocent civilians in Barcelona last week has once again forced Europe to grapple with the threat posed by the Islamic State, or ISIS. In the last year alone, the terrorist group has claimed responsibility for attacks on concertgoers in Manchester, pedestrians on London Bridge, and shoppers at a Christmas market in Berlin, as well as for several smaller-scale operations in France. The diversity of these attacks makes it difficult to discern the logic behind the jihadist group’s strikes in Europe. Beyond a general desire to intimidate and divide European countries, is there a strategy that guides ISIS’ external operations?

One insight into this question comes from an unlikely source: a set of documents produced almost a decade ago by al Qaeda, ISIS’ enemy and rival. Written in or around 2009, at a time when al Qaeda was struggling to strike the West, one of the documents, titled

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