Byman structures this primer on jihadism around a series of “frequently asked questions.” But don’t be deceived: there is plenty of useful information and solid analysis packed into this simple text. Byman stresses the massive unpopularity of the United States among the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and reviews the tools available to Washington for containing, if not defeating, jihadist networks. He focuses mainly on al Qaeda and its affiliates, devoting only one chapter to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), which formed as a direct outgrowth of al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq. Jihadists of all stripes seek the restoration of the caliphate, but al Qaeda believes that ISIS jumped the gun in proclaiming its establishment in 2014. He argues that the core al Qaeda organization is not a spent force, and that Ayman al-Zawahiri, its current leader, is an effective successor to Osama bin Laden. Today, the group’s affiliates are more dynamic than the mothership; indeed, in some ways, the branches prop up the base. Despite the group’s loss of safe havens and the U.S. campaign of drone strikes against its leaders (of which Byman approves), al Qaeda has plenty of life left in it.
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