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Islamic State vs. al-Qaeda

The rise of the Islamic State and its competition with al-Qaeda has fundamentally reshaped the global jihadist movement. Al-Qaeda, the once-dominant force within the movement, which adopted a strategy focused on fighting the United States in a competition between two actors, has faltered as the Islamic State’s strategy designed for war both with the United States and al-Qaeda has demonstrated results. 

Rather than competing with the Islamic State’s loud campaign trumpeting its brutality and military success, al-Qaeda has instead sought to avoid attention and rebrand itself as “moderate.” What is the future of the jihadist movement? Whose strategy will succeed – al Qaeda’s or the Islamic State’s? How should the United States analyze and respond to the new environment? In a new policy paper from New America, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and his coauthors explore these questions.