ISIS, a history: how the world’s worst terror group came to be

To understand the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — why it exists, what it wants, and why it commits terrible violence of which the Paris attacks are only the latest — you need to understand the tangled story of how it came to be.


The group began, in a very different form, in 1999. In the 16 years since, it has been shaped by — and has at moments helped to shape — the conflicts, physical and ideological, of the Middle East.


Here, then, is a concise history of the rise of ISIS from its earliest origins to the present day. It is the story of one of the richest and most powerful terrorist organizations ever to exist — but it’s also a story that reveals the ways in which ISIS has proven much weaker than you might think.


1989–1999: The Soviet war in Afghanistan and the beginning of ISIS

57533492【Abu Musab al-Zarqawi(即扎卡维)在伊拉克。】

You cannot understand ISIS without understanding al-Qaeda and the history they share, as well as the differences, there at the beginning, that would ultimately divide them. And al-Qaeda’s origin story begins with the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.


Soviet aggression shocked the Muslim world, galvanizing roughly 20,000 foreign fighters to help Afghans resist Soviet forces. That’s where Osama bin Laden met a number of other young radicals, who together formed the core of the al-Qaeda network.


The Soviets withdrew in 1988, but they left a puppet regime in place, and the war continued. The next year, a Jordanian man named Ahmad Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalaylah joined them.

苏联人在1988年撤离了阿富汗,但是他们留下了一个傀儡政权,而战争也还在继续。第二年,一个名叫Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalaylah的约旦人加入进来。

Al-Khalaylah would, years later, achieve global infamy under his nom de guerre, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He would found the group that became what we today call ISIS.

几年后,al-Khalaylah以他的别名Abu Musab al-Zarqawi(即扎卡维)在全球臭名昭著。他创建了在今天被我们称之为ISIS的恐怖组织。

When Zarqawi first traveled to Afghanistan, in 1989, he wasn’t all that religious: He was, as Mary Anne Weaver writes in a definitive Atlantic profile, something of a petty thug. But once there, he met a man named Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a leading proponent of violent, fundamentalist Islam. Maqdisi converted Zarqawi to his cause.

当扎卡维在1989年第一次来到阿富汗时,他并不是那么满怀宗教热情:正如Mary Anne Weaver在《大西洋月刊》发布的一份权威传略中所写道的,他当时只不过是个小流氓。但一到阿富汗,他就遇上了一个名叫Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi的暴力伊斯兰原教旨主义的主要倡导者。Maqdisi按照自己的理念改造了扎卡维。

Zarqawi would not meet bin Laden for years, and the two men built up allies and followers independently from each other — a dynamic that made Zarqawi’s network even more extreme than bin Laden’s.


“Whereas bin Laden and his cadre grew up in at least the upper middle class and had a university education, Zarqawi and those closest to him came from poorer, less educated backgrounds,” Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writes. “Zarqawi’s criminal past and extreme views on takfir (accusing another Muslim of heresy and thereby justifying his killing) created major friction and distrust with bin Laden when the two first met in Afghanistan in 1999.”

“本·拉登和他的核心骨干都至少是在上层中产阶级长大的,而且也都受过大学教育,而扎卡维和他的亲信们则来自较贫穷,教育程度也较低的阶层,”华盛顿近东政策研究所的学者Aaron Zelin如此写道。“1999年扎卡维在阿富汗首次见到本·拉登时,他的犯罪前科和他关于塔克菲(通过将另一名穆斯林控诉为异教徒,而为将他杀死的行为提供穆斯林教法上的合法性)的极端观点在两人之间造成了很大的摩擦和不信任感。”

2003–2009: The rise and fall of al-Qaeda in Iraq


Zarqawi returned from Afghanistan, and in 1999 in Jordan formed his own group, Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (JTWJ), or the Organization of Monotheism and Jihad. For the first few years, Zarqawi’s group was a bit player among jihadists, overshadowed by al-Qaeda. But this was the group, then little known, that would later become ISIS.

从阿富汗回来之后,扎卡维1999年在约旦建立了自己的组织,名为Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad(JTWJ),或叫“一神论与圣战组织”。在最初的几年中,扎卡维的组织和基地组织相比相形见绌,在众多伊斯兰圣战组织中只是个小玩家。但这个在当时还默默无闻的组织就是日后ISIS的雏形。

In 2003, the US led its invasion of Iraq and changed, in the world of jihadists, everything.


The American-led war, by destroying the Iraqi state, left much of the country in chaos. Foreign fighters and extremists began moving into Iraq, assisted by Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, which sought to bog down the US. Zarqawi and his group were among them.


The Sunni extremists who arrived found a friendly audience among former Iraqi soldiers and officers: The US had disbanded Saddam Hussein’s overwhelmingly Sunni army, which was disbanded in 2003, creating a group of men who were unemployed, battle-trained, and scared of life in an Iraq dominated by its Shia majority.


Zarqawi’s group, as it fought in Iraq, grew to prominence, attracting al-Qaeda’s attention. In 2004, Zarqawi pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda, for which he would receive access to its funds and fighters. His group was renamed al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and it became the country’s leading Sunni insurgent group.


AQI didn’t just fight the Americans, it also attacked fellow Iraqis. It bombed Shia mosques and slaughtered Shia civilians, hoping to provoke mass Shia reprisals against Sunni civilians and thus force the Sunnis to rally behind AQI. It worked, and it’s a tactic ISIS still uses today. It also helped spark a civil war in Iraq between Sunnis and Shia.


But these methods were too vicious even for al-Qaeda, which warned Zarqawi to cool it. He ignored the warnings, and AQI came to hold a swath of territory in Sunni parts of Iraq, roughly along the lines of what ISIS controls there today. Yet between 2006 and 2009, it all came crashing down:




Starting in 2006, AQI’s extremism began to backfire. Sunni tribal leaders, who had always hated living under AQI’s harsh and often violent rule, became convinced that the Shias were starting to win Iraq’s sectarian civil war. To avoid being on the losing end of a bloody war, they up took arms against AQI in a movement called the Awakening.


Zarqawi was killed in 2006 by a US airstrike, and the US increased its troop presence in Iraq that year and the next. But it was, more than anything else, the Awakening that defeated al-Qaeda in Iraq.


By 2009, almost all of AQI’s fighters were dead or in prison, and the group was a shadow of itself. But it had learned a valuable lesson: Dissent from Sunnis under its rule could be disastrous. That’s why, years later, ISIS has slaughtered members of Sunni tribes, such as Iraq’s Abu Nimr, en masse. It sees brutality as the best way to prevent a replay of the 2006 uprising that led to its downfall.

到2009年,几乎所有伊拉克基地组织的战士都已被歼灭或是被关进了监狱,组织几乎名存实亡。但是它学到了宝贵的一课:受其统治的逊尼派的不满可以带来灾难性的后果。这也是为何在几年之后,ISIS屠杀了一些逊尼派的部族成员,例如对伊拉克Abu Nimr部落的集体屠杀。为防止类似2006年那场导致它衰落的起义重演,它将残酷暴行视为最佳的预防措施。

2010: Iraq begins unraveling, setting the stage for AQI’s comeback

maliki_speech【伊拉克前总理Nouri al-Maliki(马利基)。】

ISIS was able to rise from AQI’s ashes in no small part because of Iraq’s catastrophic internal politics.


“Iraq was the essential incubator,” according to Fred Hof, who for part of 2012 served as the Obama administration’s special adviser for the transition in Syria.

“伊拉克是ISIS成长所必需的孵化器”,Fred Hof如此评论道。2012年有段时间,他曾担任奥巴马政府关于叙利亚过渡时期问题的特别顾问。

By 2010, “Iraq finally had relatively good security, a generous state budget, and positive relations among the country’s various ethnic and religious communities,” Zaid al-Ali, author of The Struggle for Iraq’s Future, wrote in Foreign Policy. But it was squandered. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stripped political opponents of power, appointed his cronies to run the army, and killed peaceful protestors.

到2010年,“伊拉克终于拥有了相对较好的安全局势,宽松的国家预算,国内各种族和宗教群体之间的关系也比较积极,”《挣扎中的伊拉克》的作者Zaid al-Ali在《外交政策》杂志上写道。但这些有利形势最终都被浪费掉了。伊拉克总理Nouri al-Maliki(马利基)剥夺了政敌们的权力,安排自己的亲信控制军队,并且杀害了一些和平抗议者。

Most importantly, he reconstructed the Iraqi state on sectarian lines, privileging the Shia majority over the Sunni minority. This exacerbated Iraq’s existing sectarian tensions: Sunni Iraqis falsely believed themselves to be Iraqi’s majority (owing to Saddam-era propaganda) and saw Maliki as depriving them of their rightful control of the state. He only deepened their belief that the Iraqi state was fundamentally illegitimate.


By this time, al-Qaeda in Iraq had a new leader: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi who had a background in serious religious scholarship. Under his leadership, AQI began allying with former officers from Saddam Hussein’s army and recruited disaffected Sunnis. Iraq’s own government, unintentionally, gave them exactly the opening they needed to regain strength.


“Raw political sectarianism in Iraq was the main causal factor [in ISIS’s rise],” Hof writes.


August 2011: AQI’s remnants move into Syria — with a little help from Assad


Around this same time, Syria erupted in Arab Spring protests that became a civil war. In March 2011, Syrian demonstrators took to the streets to demand Bashar al-Assad step down. Almost right away, the Syrian regime began slaughtering protestors in an attempt to provoke a civil war.

几乎在同一时间,叙利亚 爆发了“阿拉伯之春”运动,而这最终演变成了一场内战。在2011年3月,叙利亚的抗议者占领了大街小巷,要求巴沙尔·阿萨德下台。叙利亚政权很快开始屠杀抗议者,以图引发内战。

“It was very much a strategic decision that the regime made, to militarize the conflict right away,” Glenn Robinson, an associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, told me in a phone conversation. “I think, in their mind and correctly, if this becomes a political battle where populations matter, the regime probably only has support of a third of the country … the opposition has the numbers.”

“迅速地将这场冲突军事化,实际上是阿萨德政权所采取的一项相当有战略意义的决策”,美国海军研究生院的副教授Glenn Robinson在一次电话采访中如此对我说。“我认为,在他们看来,如果这场冲突演变成一场人口因素起重要作用的政治斗争,阿萨德政权可能仅仅能获得全国三分之一人口的支持……反对派则占据着人口的大多数,这个判断是正确的。”【编注:叙利亚1700万人口中,74%为逊尼派,控制政权的阿拉维派(什叶派的一个支派)仅占12%。】

Perhaps the most devious part of this strategy was Assad’s deliberate effort to promote Islamic extremism among the opposition. In amnesties issued between March and October 2011, Assad released a significant number (exact counts are hard to know) of extremists from Syrian prisons. Hof called this an “effort to pollute the opposition with sectarianism”: Assad gambled that if his enemies were Islamic militants, then the West wouldn’t intervene against him.


In August 2011, Baghdadi sent a top deputy, Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, to Syria to set up a new branch of the AQI in the country. Joulani succeeded, establishing Jabhat al-Nusra in January 2012. Joulani’s fighters quickly proved themselves to be some of the most effective fighters on the Syrian battlefield, swelling their ranks with new recruits.

2011年8月,巴格达迪将他的得力副手Abu Mohammad al-Joulani派往叙利亚,以在叙境内建立伊拉克基地组织的新分支。Joulani的行动获得了成功,他在2012年1月建立了一个名为Jabhat al-Nusra(即努斯拉阵线)的组织。Joulani的战士们迅速证明了他们是叙利亚战场上最高效的战斗群体之一,并通过招募大量新成员提升了组织的地位。

At this point, Baghdadi’s original group was still in Iraq alone. It had not become ISIS. But to understand how it did, you have to see the larger forces that opened his way.


Early 2012: Syrian jihadists get their “angel investors”

Today, ISIS is the world’s richest terrorist group, its funding coming mostly from various extortion schemes in the territory it controls. But back in 2012, foreign donations played a crucial role in growing the group from the poor organization it was then into the monster it is today.


In 2012, money flew into Syria from the Gulf Arab states — places like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. The key investments in ISIS didn’t come directly from those countries’ governments, but rather from private individuals living there who wanted to see the Assad regime fall — and perhaps to promote extremism itself.


“These rich Arabs are like what ‘angel investors’ are to tech start-ups, except they are interested in starting up groups who want to stir up hatred,” former US Navy Admiral and NATO Supreme Commander James Stavridis told NBC last June. “Groups like al-Nusra and ISIS are better investments for them [than moderates].”

“这些阿拉伯富豪所扮演的角色就像是科技初创企业的‘天使投资人’,唯一的区别在于,他们的目的是创立一些旨在煽动仇恨的极端组织,”前美国海军上将和北约总司令James Stavridis将军在去年6月向NBC表示,“(相对于温和派),像努斯拉阵线和ISIS这样的组织对他们而言是更好的投资。”

Though these donors have since faded in importance, they were invaluable at the time. “The individuals,” Stavridis explained, “act as high rollers early, providing seed money. Once the groups are on their feet, they are perfectly capable of raising funds through other means, like kidnapping, oil smuggling, selling women into slavery, etc.”


But while the Gulf financiers’ intent may have been to hurt Assad, they actually ended up propping him up by playing into his strategy of promoting extremism.


“It was a service of incalculable value to the Assad regime: It enabled him to say — albeit inaccurately — that he was the alternative to terrorism and sectarianism,” Hof told me via email.


July 2012: The great ISIS prison break begins


There’s one chapter of the story of ISIS’s rise that very rarely gets mentioned: its spectacular series of attacks on Iraqi prisons in 2012 and 2013. These prison breaks supplied it with a huge infusion of recruits, and also illustrates how effectively ISIS took advantage of the Iraqi government’s weakness.


In July 2012, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released a statement to his loyalists. “We remind you of your top priority, which is to release the Muslim prisoners everywhere,” he said, “and making the pursuit, chase, and killing of their butchers from amongst the judges, detectives, and guards to be on top of the list.”


This was, unambiguously, a call to break former Iraqi insurgents out of jail — and ISIS followed their leader’s order. Over the next year, they attacked a number of prisons across Iraq, freeing somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 inmates.


These included, former CIA analyst Aki Peretz writes, “many terrorists [that] elite US military forces caught over the years and then handed over to the Iraqi government when the United States turned over custody of its prison facilities in 2010.”

前中央情报局分析员Aki Peretz写道:“这其中包括许多由美军精英部队在过去数年中抓捕的恐怖分子,在美国2010年向伊拉克移交监狱设施时,他们也被交给了伊拉克政府。”

People incarcerated for common crimes were also recruited. “Prisoners convicted of criminal charges provide advantages to the terrorist group, because they could have been recruited during their incarceration,” Peretz writes. “Even if common criminals were able to resist jihadist persuasion efforts while in prison, they may now feel indebted to their ‘liberators.‘”


This won ISIS a rapid infusion of manpower — and also illustrates that well before the 2014 crisis, we had signs that the Iraqi state was falling apart in a way that would empower extremists. The ISIS crisis didn’t come out of nowhere, in other words: It was a slow motion disaster with plenty of advance warning.


April 2013: ISIS officially becomes ISIS — and divorces al-Qaeda


As all this was happening, Baghdadi’s organization was still named al-Qaeda in Iraq. But Baghdadi worried that Joulani — his commander of Jabhat al-Nusra, the group in Syria — was acting too independently and would quit AQI to make Jabhat al-Nusra a separate group.


In April 2013, Baghdadi did something dramatic: He asserted unilateral control over all al-Qaeda operations in both Syria and Iraq. To demonstrate this change, he renamed AQI “the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria” — or ISIS, for short.


This didn’t sit well with Joulani, who appealed to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri, who’d never really trusted AQI, sided with Joulani — a decision that Baghdadi rejected. ISIS and al-Qaeda eventually split, dividing the jihadist movement in Syria.

而Joulani则对此感到不满,他向基地组织领导人Ayman al-Zawahiri(即扎瓦赫里)申诉此事。扎瓦赫里从来就没有信任过伊拉克基地组织,他站在了Joulani一边——而巴格达迪则抵制了他的这一决定。ISIS和基地组织最终分道扬镳了,叙利亚境内的圣战运动也就此分裂。

This left ISIS to “gradually emerge as an autonomous component within the Syrian conflict,” Brookings Doha‘s Charles Lister writes, by absorbing Nusra fighters and territory in northern and eastern Syria. It ended up taking firm control of much of this territory, establishing a de facto capital in the northern city of Raqqa.

在这之后,通过在叙利亚北部和东部地区吸收努斯拉阵线的战士和领地,ISIS“作为一个完全独立的组织逐渐在叙利亚内战中成长壮大”,布鲁金斯学会多哈分会的Charles Lister写道。最终,ISIS牢牢地控制了该区域的大部分地区,并在叙利亚北部城市拉卡建立了一个实质上的首都。

Assad, for his part, was perfectly happy to leave ISIS alone — particularly as it primarily fought other rebel groups. “ISIS almost never fought the Assad regime,” Robinson says. “They were much more focused on fighting other opposition groups and gaining land their opponents had already acquired.”


By February 2014, Zawahiri had had enough. He formally exiled ISIS from al-Qaeda, leading to what Zelin describes as “open warfare in Syria” between the groups. Today, the groups continue to struggle over territory and ideological control over the global jihadist movement.


This dynamic, in part, drives ISIS’s brutality: One of the group’s key means of capturing foreign fighters’ hearts and minds is through public, over-the-top slaughter that wins their attention.


June 2014: ISIS sweeps northern Iraq and declares a caliphate

Abu_Bakr_451738080.0【Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi。(巴格达迪)】

This is the moment when everything that had happened before in ISIS’s rise came to a head. On June 10, 2014, a force of about 800 ISIS fighters defeated 30,000 Iraqi government troops to capture Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. In the next two days, ISIS fighters swept through Iraq’s heavily Sunni northwestern and central provinces — coming, at their peak, extremely close to Baghdad.


This blitzkrieg built on months of ISIS momentum. In January, ISIS had seized control of Fallujah, a former AQI stronghold in western Iraq. The Iraqi government’s repeated inability to retake Fallujah in the following months illustrated the depleted and incompetent state of the Iraqi army after years of Maliki’s mismanagement.


The conquest of Mosul and much of northern Iraq led a triumphant Baghdadi to declare his territory a “caliphate” on July 4. By this, Baghdadi meant that ISIS was now a state — and not just any state but the only Islamically legitimate state in the world. All Muslims, Baghdadi said, were obligated to support the nascent Islamic state in its struggle to hold and expand its land.


Establishing a caliphate had long been the goal of the entire jihadist movement. By declaring that he had actually created one, Baghdadi gained a huge leg up on al-Qaeda in the struggle for global jihadist supremacy.


Since then, ISIS has “succeeded in attracting far, far more recruits” than al-Qaeda, Will McCants, the director of the Brookings Institution’s Project on US Relations With the Islamic World, told me. This has also has allowed it to gain a following among foreign terrorist groups, with major ISIS franchises in Libya, Egypt’s Sinai desert, and Nigeria.

从那以后,ISIS比基地组织“成功地招募到了多得多的新鲜血液”,布鲁金斯学会美国与伊斯兰世界关系研究项目主任Will McCants如此对我说。这还使得ISIS能够获得其它境外恐怖组织的效忠,这些追随者主要在利比亚,埃及的西奈沙漠和尼日利亚。

But ISIS had also taken a task with burdens beyond what it can perhaps sustain. By committing to actually governing a swath of territory in Syria and Iraq as a state, ISIS couldn’t rely purely on insurgent tactics or hiding among civilians. It needed to engage in pitched conventional battles to defend its land.


“When they declared the caliphate, their legitimacy came to rest on the continuing viability of their state,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told me last October. In the coming year, this would prove to be a serious problem for the group.

“当他们宣布建立哈里发国,他们的合法性就建立在这个国家持续生存的状态之上,”保卫民主基金会的一位资深研究员Daveed Gartenstein-Ross去年十月对我说。在之后的一年中,事实证明这是ISIS所面对的一个严重问题。

August 2014: ISIS makes its first huge mistake — invading Kurdistan


Ever since its AQI days, ISIS had been prone to ideological and political overstretch.


“To be the caliph, one must meet conditions outlined in Sunni law,” Graeme Wood explains in an excellent Atlantic feature on ISIS’s theology. One condition is that “the caliph have territory in which he can enforce Islamic law.” Once the caliphate is established, “the waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph.”

“一个人如果想成为哈里发,就必须满足逊尼派教法中所规定的诸多条件,”Graeme Wood在一篇发表在《大西洋月刊》上的关于ISIS宗教意识形态的出色专题文章中写道。其中一个条件就是“哈里发必须拥有一块他能够实施伊斯兰教法的领土。”一旦建立了哈里发国家,“发动战争以扩张哈里发国的领土就成为了哈里发本人的一项重要责任。”

Everything we know about ISIS suggests that both its fighters and Baghdadi himself earnestly believe this. This is what led them to attack Iraq’s Kurds.


Iraq’s Kurdish minority controls a semi-autonomous region in northeastern Iraq, and has a powerful military force known as the peshmerga. For the first half of 2014, they had been content to sit out the ISIS conflict.


But in August 2014, ISIS decided to invade Iraqi Kurdistan, quickly advancing to within several miles of the capital, Erbil. It also launched a genocidal campaign against a minority group known as the Yazidi, who are ethnically Kurdish.


This brought the peshmerga into the war, which have since dealt ISIS a series of stinging defeats. It also drew the United States into the war: President Obama’s bombing campaign against ISIS initially began as a limited intervention to protect American personnel in Erbil and stem the slaughter of the Yazidis.


ISIS’s progress into Kurdistan was reversed. Pressed by Kurds, a regrouping Iraqi military, Iranian-backed Shia militias, and US aircraft, ISIS began to fall back. By early 2015, ISIS began taking losses: The heavily Sunni city of Tikrit fell to Iraqi forces in April.


“The Islamic State … will lose its battle to hold territory in Iraq,” Douglas Ollivant, the former national security adviser for Iraq under both George W. Bush and Obama, wrote in War on the Rocks this February. “The outcome in Iraq is now clear to most serious analysts.”

“伊斯兰国…将无法守住他们在伊拉克的领地,”曾在布什政府和奥巴马政府担任伊拉克问题国家安全顾问的Douglas Ollivant在今年二月发表在网站War on the Rocks上的一篇文章中写道。“绝大多数严肃的分析家都已经看清了他们在伊拉克的结局。”

June 2015: ISIS’s capital comes under threat



In Syria, things had long looked better for ISIS than they had in Iraq: the multi-sided civil war meant that there was no unified, reliable force to challenge them. But in mid-2015, Syrian Kurds began threatening ISIS’s territory.


ISIS, as in Iraq, had attempted to invade and conquer the territory within Syria that is dominated by Kurdish groups — and came damn close. In October 2014, ISIS nearly seized Kobane, a Kurdish stronghold on Syria’s northern border with Turkey.


But the Kurds held out for months. In January, aided by US support and US-led coalition air strikes, they pushed ISIS out of Kurdish territory. Then they kept going, seizing ISIS territory elsewhere in Syria. They advanced to within 30 miles of ISIS’s de facto capital at Raqqa.


The Soufan Group, a private intelligence firm focusing on terrorism, described the Kurdish-led advance on Raqqa as the “most serious symbolic and meaningful threat [to ISIS] since it declared itself a caliphate almost one year ago.”


These Kurdish victories showed that ISIS was running up against the limits of its military strategy. Since last June, the group has been fighting too many enemies on too many different fronts. Its ability to maneuver rapidly around its territory has been limited by coalition airstrikes. Slowly but steadily, it has been losing ground.


ISIS “lost something like 25 percent of their territory” since its peak last summer, McCants says.


Autumn 2015: ISIS turns to international terrorism


On November 13, terrorists attacked several locations around Paris, killing more than 130 and wounding more than 380. ISIS claimed responsibility, and the French government has said that it believes the group was responsible.


So why, as it slowly loses ground in Iraq and Syria, bit by bit losing the caliphate that has been its primary focus, might ISIS be sending fighters abroad at this critical moment?


ISIS thrives on a narrative of victory. In order to sell itself as the prophesied return of the caliphate, it needs to show that its victories are inevitable and divinely inspired. If it’s losing territory, then it needs to sell its narrative through other means. That means claiming “victory” over foreign enemies by hitting them with terrorist attacks. Indeed, Paris wasn’t the only foreign attack ISIS has launched: ISIS suicide bombers have hit Kuwait, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. It also claimed responsibility for taking down a Russian civilian airliner in Egypt’s Sinai desert.

ISIS是建立在一个关于胜利的叙事之上的。为了将自己塑造成伊斯兰预言中的哈里发帝国的形象,它需要展示出它的胜利是必然而神启的。如果它正在失去领土,那么它就必须通过其它方式来延续这个胜利的叙事。通过向外国敌人发动恐怖袭击来表示 “战胜了”他们,便是一种方式。显然,巴黎惨案并不是ISIS在国外所发动的唯一恐怖袭击:ISIS在科威特,黎巴嫩和沙特阿拉伯都发动过自杀式炸弹袭击。它还宣称对在埃及西奈沙漠中炸毁俄罗斯民用客机的事件负责。

“Much of ISIS’s ideological support and recruiting strength emanates from a narrative that it is victorious,” J.M. Berger, the co-author of ISIS: A State of Terror, explains via email. The Paris attack “changes the conversation from ‘ISIS is contained’ on November 12 to ‘ISIS is rampaging uncontrollably’ on November 14.”

“ISIS在意识形态上所获得的支持以及招募新员的能力在很大程度上都建立在一个它是胜利者的叙事之上,”《ISIS:一个恐怖国家》的合著者J.M. Berger在电子邮件中向我解释道。巴黎恐怖袭击“将人们所谈论的话题从11月12日的‘ISIS已经受到遏制’转变为了11月14日的‘ISIS的疯狂行为完全不受控制’。”

Moreover, ISIS may believe that terrorist attacks are its best way of striking back against — and maybe, it believes, deterring — foreign attacks. (The French are part of the US-led coalition bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq). That conclusion would likely be wrong, but ISIS may still believe it.


“I think it has made the calculation that it can no longer pursue its expansion strategy in Syria and Iraq without changing the calculations of the enemies currently halting its expansion,” McCants says. “These attacks would be a way of inflicting costs on them.”


But here’s one final scary twist: ISIS may not have planned it at all. The attack could have been independently undertaken by European IS



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