How ISIS’s favorite strategy book explains recent terrorist attacks

William McCants writes: The jihadist slaughter over the last three weeks seems senseless. The self-proclaimed Islamic State killed 224 on a Russian airliner, 43 in Beirut, over 120 in Paris, and around 20 in Bamako. How could religious people in pursuit of paradise believe it’s acceptable to take innocent life? How could rational people in pursuit of power believe it is smart to create enemies on all sides?

Many of the answers are found in a strategy manual written by an al-Qaeda sympathizer over a decade ago called The Management of Savagery. The book is revered by al-Qaeda and Islamic State operatives, despite their antipathy for each other. It was one of the first jihadist texts I translated, in an effort to enlighten myself and others about the rationale behind the 9/11 attacks. I have turned to it often since then to help me make sense of violent events like those we have seen in recent weeks.

The author, the pseudonymous Abu Bakr Naji, does not spend much time religiously justifying violent revolution. The Prophet Mohammed, he observes, waged a war against the tribal powers of his day to establish a state. The more pressing questions are which kinds of violence are sanctioned by scripture and when are they effective. [Continue reading…]

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