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Decoding al-Qaeda's Strategy


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Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration Acknowledgments Introduction 1. The Historical Roots of al-Qaeda's Ideology 2. The Leadership Inspires a New Strategy 3. Jihad as Revolution 4. An Action Plan for Savagery 5. The Jihadist Legacy of Abu Mus'ab al-Suri Conclusion: What It All Means Appendix 1: Translation of "Revolutionary Wars" Appendix 2: Translation of "Fourth-Generation Warfare" Notes Bibliography Index

Promotional Information

By consulting the work of well-known and obscure al-Qaeda theoreticians, Michael W. S. Ryan finds jihadist terrorism strategy has more in common with the principles of Maoist guerrilla warfare than mainstream Islam. Encouraging strategists and researchers to devote greater attention to jihadi ideas rather than jihadist military operations, Ryan builds an effective framework for analyzing al-Qaeda's plans against America and constructs a compelling counternarrative to the West's supposed "war on Islam."

About the Author

Michael W. S. Ryan, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, studied Arabic in Egypt and received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He served as a senior executive in the U.S. Departments of State and Defense and as vice president of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Middle East Institute. He lives in Virginia.


Michael W. S. Ryan's illumination of the ideology and strategy of al-Qaeda as seen in the writings of its key theoreticians is unique and valuable. This is an important and insightful book that provides both new information on al-Qaeda and new commentary on its strategy and how to defeat it. -- Bruce Riedel, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Osama bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda 'prime' in Pakistan is decimated, and yet the anti-Western jihad continues as extremism erupts in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Algeria, and elsewhere. Unless we can match our tactical successes with strategic progress, we seem condemned to endless war. Thankfully, Ryan shows us a way forward in his thoughtful, non-polemic analysis of this enemy's doctrine and motivation-the essential first step in combating not just its actions but also its ideas. This book is a blueprint for taking our fight to the next level. -- General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA A highly readable account of the evolution of al-Qaeda's strategic thinking. Drawing upon existing scholarship and new primary sources, Ryan offers not only a lucid expose of al-Qaeda's key strategic thinkers and their works but also new insight into the logic and rationale informing al-Qaeda's violent campaigns. -- Brynjar Lia, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, author of Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al-Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus'ab Al-Suri Knowledge of the enemy is essential in any conflict, and Ryan delivers. His analysis of al-Qaeda's theology, strategy, tactics, and ability to marshal support even among people who disapprove of its methods is timely, well written,deeply researched, and ultimately reassuring. -- Thomas W. Lippman, author of Saudi Arabia on the Edge An outstanding and unique contribution that examines al-Qaeda's strategy against the US... Highly recommended. Choice

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