ISIS' Perfect Enemy

Why the Terrorist Group Celebrated Trump's Victory

Donald Trump campaigns in Ohio, days before winning the U.S. presidential election, November 2016. Carlo Allegri / Reuters

A few months ago, while analyzing jihadist chatter on social media, I was surprised to discover that Islamic State (ISIS) supporters were literally praying for a Trump presidency. At that time, an ISIS spokesman wrote online “I ask Allah to deliver America to Trump.” Meanwhile, an ISIS supporter posted on Telegram (an encrypted messaging application that hosts numerous jihadist channels) that “the ‘facilitation’ of Trump’s arrival in the White House must be a priority for jihadists at any cost!!!” It seems illogical that ISIS would prefer the candidate—now president-elect—who has vowed to “bomb the shit out of” the group and refused to rule out the possibility of using nuclear weapons against it. Yet, in the aftermath of the election, ISIS supporters and other jihadists are gleefully celebrating Donald Trump’s victory. The official newspaper of Ansar al-Sharia in the Arabian Peninsula, an al Qaeda front, went so far as to predict that “Americans will remember 11/9 the way they remember 9/11.” In the eyes of jihadists, Trump is the perfect enemy.


Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric plays into jihadist narratives of a world in which the West is at war with Islam. ISIS’ view of international relations is based on a stark division between two antagonistic realms: the lands governed by the caliphate, which it calls dar al-Islam (“the domain of Islam”), and the lands of its enemies, known as dar al-harb (“the domain of war”). In this black-and-white world, ISIS seeks to eliminate what it calls the “gray zone”—multicultural societies, especially in the West, where Muslims and non-Muslims coexist peacefully.

From the perspective of jihadists, then, Trump is an ideal adversary. His Islamophobic views support their claim that the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds are engaged in an existential clash of civilizations. On November 10, one jihadist on Telegram referred to Trump as “Abu Lahab,” meaning “father of flames” in Arabic. The epithet is a reference to an uncle of the Prophet Mohamed who is condemned in the Koran as an

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