A guerrilla war proceeds in phases, according to Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin’s A Practical Course for Guerrilla War, a strategic and tactical guide to mujahideen intent on establishing “a pure Islamic system free from defects and infidel elements.” It was written after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Phase two is the time of “relative strategic balance,” when the jihadis build an army to hold territory that has been wrested from the incumbent regime. “There the mujahidin will set up base camps, hospitals, sharia courts, and broadcasting stations, as well as a jumping-off point for military and political actions,” al-Muqrin writes.
The third phase, a time of internal discord and political upheaval for the “collaborationist” regime, is “decisive.” The terrorists use their conventional army to launch dramatic assaults.
“By means of these mujahadin conventional forces, the mujahidin will begin to attack smaller cities and exploit in the media their successes and victories in order to raise the morale of the mujahidin and the people in general and to demoralize the enemy,” al-Muqrin writes in a passage that brings to mind the Islamic State’s rampage across northern Iraq. “The reason for the mujahidin’s treating of smaller cities is that when the enemy’s forces see the fall of cities into the mujahidin’s hands with such ease their morale will collapse and they will become convinced that they are incapable of dealing with the mujahidin.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters that the Islamic State “is beyond anything that we’ve seen.” That’s true insofar as al-Qaeda did not build a conventional army or declare itself a state. He shouldn’t be so surprised, though. The U.S. national-security apparatus has been following this jihadist ambition for years.
The manual, translated in 2008 by a research fellow at the Marine Corps University, shows how the Islamic State’s efforts to build an army and establish a caliphate reflect a longstanding goal. An Islamic caliphate has been al-Qaeda’s dream from the beginning. Using principles and tactics similar to al-Qaeda’s, the Islamic State has come closer to realizing that dream.
Al-Muqrin’s primary concern was to explain how al-Qaeda could wage war against the Saudi Arabian regime, but the text was intended as an education tool for jihadis in other areas as well. Discussing the book during an interview with National Review Online, Mary Habeck of the American Enterprise Institute noted a Reuters report (of July 8) on a notebook found at a former al-Qaeda “leadership camp” in Yemen. It’s almost certain that the al-Qaeda student who took those notes was being taught al-Muqrin’s ideas.
“This notebook has word for word” a paragraph from al-Muqrin’s book, “slightly differently translated by the two Arabic interpreters,” Habeck pointed out. Many of these terrorists, she explains, “have their intellectual and military roots in al-Qaeda, and this is what al-Qaeda is attempting to do.” The translator, Norman Cigar, wrote that al-Muqrin’s ideas were disseminated to Iraqi insurgents as early as 2005.
The Islamic State “has a long history and an origin dating back to AQI, al-Qaeda in Iraq,” White House deputy national-security adviser Ben Rhodes reminded reporters. Obviously, Islamic State terrorists are not constantly referring to al-Muqrin’s book for their next move. Regardless, the manual itself warns, “One must be careful that these characteristics not become a rigid template or a ‘school solution,’ but rather, that they remain adaptable to circumstances in the region.”