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Review Essay

True Believers

How ISIS Made Jihad Religious Again

In This Review

Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State
Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State
By Ali Soufan
Norton, 2017, 384 pp. Purchase

In the last two decades, the story of global jihadism has had more plot reversals than a daytime soap. Moribund groups have sputtered to life, former brothers-in-arms have declared one another apostates, and erstwhile hunters of jihadists have joined their ranks. These twists have bewildered governments and analysts, and anyone who claims to have recognized them and their importance as they were happening is probably lying. 

The most important development is contained in two easy-to-remember numbers: 400 and 40,000. On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda commanded an army of 400. A decade and a half later, the Islamic State (or ISIS) had mobilized some 40,000 people to travel to Iraq and Syria, mostly from the Muslim-majority countries but also from Western countries with sizable Muslim communities and even from places with relatively few Muslims, such as Chile and Japan. The challenge for today’s terrorism experts is to explain how 400 grew into more than 40,000, despite the

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