By Raymond Ibrahim
Although the birth of the Islamic State and the herald of the caliphate are often regarded as some of 2014’s “big shockers,” they were foretold in striking detail and with an accurate timeline by an al-Qaeda insider nearly one decade ago.
On August 12, 2005, Spiegel Online International published an article titled “The Future of Terrorism: What al-Qaeda Really Wants.” Written by Yassin Musharbash, the article was essentially a review of a book written by Fouad Hussein, a Jordanian journalist with close access to al-Qaeda and its affiliates, including the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who pioneered the videotaping of beheadings “to strike terror into the hearts” of infidels (Koran 3:151).
As Hussein explained in the introduction of his book Al Zarqawi: Al Qaeda’s Second Generation: “I interviewed a whole range of al-Qaeda members with different ideologies to get an idea of how the war between the terrorists and Washington would develop in the future.”
And in fact the book details the master plan of al-Qaeda—in its “second generation” manifestation known as the “Islamic State” which follows much of Zarqawi’s modus operandi—to resurrect a caliphate. This plan is sufficiently outlandish that Yassin Musharbash, the author of the Spiegel article reviewing Hussein’s book, repeatedly casts doubt on its feasibility. Thus al-Qaeda’s plan is “proof both of the terrorists’ blindness as well as their brutal single-mindedness”; there is “no way” al-Qaeda can follow the plan “step by step”; “the idea that al-Qaeda could set up a caliphate in the entire Islamic world is absurd”; and the following “scenario should be judged skeptically.”
Yet it is all the more remarkable that much of this plan—especially those phases dismissed as infeasible by Musharbash (four and five)—have come to pass.
In what follows, I reproduce the seven phases of al-Qaeda’s master plan as presented in Musharbash’s nearly ten-year-old article (in bullet points and italics, bold for emphasis), with my commentary interspersed for context. Phases four and five are of particular importance as they describe the goals for recent times, much of which have come to fruition according to plan.
An Islamic Caliphate in Seven Easy Steps
•The First Phase Known as “the awakening”—this has already been carried out and was supposed to have lasted from 2000 to 2003, or more precisely from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington to the fall of Baghdad in 2003. The aim of the attacks of 9/11 was to provoke the US into declaring war on the Islamic world and thereby “awakening” Muslims. “The first phase was judged by the strategists and masterminds behind al-Qaeda as very successful,” writes Hussein. “The battle field was opened up and the Americans and their allies became a closer and easier target.” The terrorist network is also reported as being satisfied that its message can now be heard “everywhere.”
Much of this is accurate and makes sense. Sadly, if any eyes were opened after the 9/11 attacks on American soil, they weren’t Western eyes—certainly not the eyes of Western leadership, mainstream media, and academia. But to many Muslims, the strikes of 9/11 were inspiring and motivating, giving credence to Osama bin Laden’s characterization of America as a “paper tiger.” A few years after the Islamic strikes of 9/11, Americans responded by electing a man with a Muslim name and heritage for president, even as he continuously empowers in a myriad of ways—including banning knowledge of Islam—the same ideology behind the strikes of 9/11. Meanwhile, the average Muslim relearned the truths of their religion, namely that the “infidel” is an existential enemy and jihad against him is a duty, as al-Qaeda and others had successfully shown.
•The Second Phase “Opening Eyes” is, according to Hussein’s definition, the period we are now in [writing in 2005] and should last until 2006. Hussein says the terrorists hope to make the western conspiracy aware of the “Islamic community.” Hussein believes this is a phase in which al-Qaeda wants an organization to develop into a movement. The network is banking on recruiting young men during this period. Iraq should become the center for all global operations, with an “army” set up there and bases established in other Arabic states.
This too is accurate. Among other things, the “Islamic community,” the umma, began to be more visible and vocal during this time frame, including through a rash of attacks and riots following any perceived “insult” to Islam, growing demands for appeasement, and accusations of “Islamophobia” against all and sundry. If there weren’t any spectacular terror attacks on the level of 9/11, young Muslim men were quietly enlisting and training in the jihad—or in western parlance, “radicalizing.” Al-Qaeda went from being an “organization” to a “movement”—international “radicalization.” Most importantly, Iraq, as the world now knows, certainly did become the “center for all global operations” with an “army” of jihadis set up there.
•The Third Phase This is described as “Arising and Standing Up” and should last from 2007 to 2010. “There will be a focus on Syria,” prophesies Hussein, based on what his sources told him. The fighting cadres are supposedly already prepared and some are in Iraq. Attacks on Turkey and—even more explosive— in Israel are predicted. Al-Qaeda’s masterminds hope that attacks on Israel will help the terrorist group become a recognized organization. The author also believes that countries neighboring Iraq, such as Jordan, are also in danger.
Much of this third phase as described and transpired seems to have been an extension of phase two. In retrospect, there certainly appears to have been a focus on Syria, even if the jihad started there one year behind schedule (2011). And many of the jihadis were “already prepared” and “some are in Iraq.” None of this was a surprise, of course, as U.S. intelligence always indicated that if American forces withdrew from Iraq, the jihadis would take over.
•The Fourth Phase Between 2010 and 2013, Hussein writes that al-Qaeda will aim to bring about the collapse of the hated Arabic governments. The estimate is that “the creeping loss of the regimes’ power will lead to a steady growth in strength within al-Qaeda.” At the same time attacks will be carried out against oil suppliers and the US economy will be targeted using cyber terrorism.
This is immensely prophetic. Recall that the timeline given (2010-2013) coincides remarkably well with the so-called “Arab Spring,” which culminated with Islamic terrorists and their allies taking over the leadership of several Arab countries formerly ruled by secularized autocrats: Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood (which plays Dr. Jekyll to al-Qaeda’s Mr. Hyde); Libya, al-Qaeda/Islamic jihadis; ongoing Syria, al-Qaeda/Islamic jihadis (or their latest manifestation, the Islamic State, al-Qaeda’s “second generation”), etc. It should be remembered that in each of these nations—Egypt, Libya, Syria—the Obama administration played a major role in empowering the jihadis, though in the name of “democracy.”
•The Fifth Phase This will be the point at which an Islamic state, or caliphate, can be declared. The plan is that by this time, between 2013 and 2016, Western influence in the Islamic world will be so reduced and Israel weakened so much, that resistance will not be feared. Al-Qaeda hopes that by then the Islamic state will be able to bring about a new world order.
Again, right on time: the “Islamic State” declared itself the “caliphate” in 2014, with many Muslim organizations and persons around the world pledging their allegiance, if not imitating their slaughter, with inspired “lone wolves” already beheading “infidels” in Western nations. And if the administration helped empower jihadis during the “Arab Spring” and in the name of “democracy” in Egypt, Libya, and Syria, it helped the creation of the Islamic State by withdrawing U.S. military forces that were keeping al-Qaeda at bay in Iraq. Recall that in 2007 George W. Bush said that “To begin withdrawing [military forces] before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States. It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to Al Qaeda. It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It would mean we’d be increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.” All of these predictions have proven remarkably prescient—not because Bush was a prophet but because U.S intelligence clearly understood the situation in Iraq, and briefed Obama on it just as it did Bush. Yet, in 2011, Obama declared the Iraq war a success and pulled out American troops, leaving the way wide open for the jihadi master plan of resurrecting the caliphate to unfold.
•The Sixth Phase Hussein believes that from 2016 onwards there will a period of “total confrontation.” As soon as the caliphate has been declared the “Islamic army” it will instigate the “fight between the believers and the non-believers” which has so often been predicted by Osama bin Laden.
This needs clarification. While many assume that the “fight between the believers and the non-believers” is between Muslims and non-Muslims, this is not always the case. Soon after the announcement of the caliphate, the Islamic State made clear that it was in the phase of waging jihad on “apostates” and “hypocrites,” meaning all the “apostate” or “infidel” Arab leaders like Bashar al-Assad, as well as Muslim populations that are insufficiently “Islamic.” It is for this reason that the new caliph took on the name of “Abu Bakr”—the name of the first historic caliph (632-634) whose caliphate was characterized by fighting and bringing back into the fold of Islam all those Arabs who broke away after Muhammad died. Afterwards, when all the Arab tribes were unified under the banner of Islam, the great historic conquests, or jihads against neighboring “infidels,” took place.
•The Seventh Phase This final stage is described as “definitive victory.” Hussein writes that in the terrorists’ eyes, because the rest of the world will be so beaten down by the “one-and-a-half billion Muslims,” the caliphate will undoubtedly succeed. This phase should be completed by 2020, although the war shouldn’t last longer than two years.
Phase seven remains to be seen, as it is has another five years to go. As for the world being “so beaten down by the one-and-a-half billion Muslims,” actor Ben Affleck reflected this sentiment recently when he kept apologizing for Islam by saying Muslims “are a billion and a half.” At any rate, considering that the preceding phases have all largely come to pass—with a passive West doing nothing to prevent them, that is, when not actively aiding them—there is certainly no good reason to think Western leadership will stop the final phase from occurring: a unified, aggressive, expansionist, and eventually possibly even nuclear armed caliphate preparing to terrorize its neighbors on a grand scale—just like its historic predecessor did for centuries.