Abstract: In 2004, al-Qaeda’s security chief smuggled 42 handwritten pages out of Iran, where he was confined under a loose form of house arrest. The notes written by Sayf al-Adl were each folded into a bundle the size of a cigarette, and they included two seminal documents: a history of ISIS Godfather Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's original engagement with al-Qaeda in 2000, and a high-level plan to re-establish the Caliphate between 2013 and 2016.
Al-Adl’s history has formed the basis of virtually every subsequent retelling of the development of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State. But none other than Osama bin Laden himself has repudiated al-Adl’s history, and newly available al-Qaeda correspondence from the period suggests that intra-jihadi competition drove al-Qaeda’s original engagement with Zarqawi more than strategic or ideological alignment.
Al-Adl’s other document, a seven-stage ‘Master Plan’ that foretold the declaration of the Caliphate in 2014, has proved extraordinarily prescient. It aimed to exploit a geopolitical loophole to al-Qaeda’s basic worldview and finally unify Zarqawi’s movement with al-Qaeda. The strategic vision proved powerful, but the alliance it was built for was not.
About the Speaker: Brian Fishman is a Counterterrorism Research Fellow with the International Security Program at New America, a Washington, DC think tank and a Fellow with the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point, where he previously served as the Director of Research. He currently manages policy at Facebook regarding terrorism and violent extremism. Fishman also served as an assistant professor in West Point’s Department of Social Sciences. Fishman built and led Palantir Technologies’ Disaster Relief and Crisis Response team, which brought some of the world’s most sophisticated technology to humanitarian organizations. Fishman is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and was a founding editor of the CTC Sentinel.
Fishman is the author of numerous studies U.S. national security, terrorism and international jihadi groups. He has specialized in the so-called Islamic State and its predecessors since 2005 and taught a dedicated course about the Islamic State of Iraq in 2008. Fishman coauthored seminal investigations of al-Qaeda's foreign fighters in Iraq and Iranian support for Shia militias fighting U.S. troops in Iraq. Fault Lines in Global Jihad: Organizational, Strategic, and Ideological Fissures, a volume Fishman co-edited with Assaf Moghadam, was named one of the top books for understanding terrorist recruitment. He regularly appears in domestic and international media regarding terrorism and national security issues.
Fishman has taught as an adjunct professor in Georgetown's School of Foreign Service and Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. Before joining the CTC, Fishman was the Foreign Affairs/Defense Legislative Assistant for Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey. Fishman holds a Masters in International Affairs (MIA) from Columbia University and a B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles.