Inside the Army of Terror

Book - 2015
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How did a group of religious fanatics, clad in black pajamas and armed to the teeth, manage to carve out a violent, fundamentalist "Islamic state" in wide swaths of Syria and Iraq? How did the widely celebrated revolution against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad descend into a movement led by a psychopathically violent band of jihadists dedicated to the destruction of America? And just who are these brutal Islamic militants--many speaking unaccented English and holding European passports--beheading Western hostages in slickly produced videos? In Isis: Inside the Army of Terror, Syrian journalist Hassan Hassan and American analyst Michael Weiss explain how the terrorists of ISIS evolved from a nearly defeated insurgent group into a jihadi army--armed with American military hardware and the capability to administer a functioning state. Weiss and Hassan, who have both been on the frontlines of the Syrian revolution, have interviewed dozens of experts, American military and intelligence officials, and ISIS fighters to paint the first comprehensive picture of the rise and expansion of America's most formidable terrorist enemy. ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror is destined to become the standard text on a terror group that, unfortunately, shows no signs of going away.
Publisher: New York, NY : Regan Arts, [2015]
Edition: First Regan Arts paperback edition
ISBN: 9781941393574
Characteristics: xvi, 270 pages ; 21 cm
Additional Contributors: Hassan, Hassan, - Author


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Feb 02, 2018

This is book explains in great detail how ISIS developed as an off-shoot and then a rival to Al Qaeda. Some of the leaders seem, frankly, unimpressive as far as education and religious rigor (par for the course, we find), but what they lack in "book smarts" they make up for in their understanding of how to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

While Al Qaeda can claim parentage for ISIS, it was undeniably midwived by Saddam Hussein's counter-terrorist shadow infrastructure, the mismanagement of the war in Iraq and it's subsequent "victory" and, not surprisingly, the machinations of the Syrian government. It must also be said that the eagerness of the United States to leave Iraq after the election of Al Maliki- while understandable- led to the perfect storm of conditions that allowed ISIS to truly flourish; had the Shia government not felt that they had carte blanche to antagonize Sunni populations, ISIS would not have looked nearly as attractive to them.

This isn't a book about the Syrian Civil War, but there are insights into how Assad uses the specter of ISIS to legitimize his government. This is a strategy of his that has gone back for over a decade. Terrorists frequently used Syria to get through to Iraq during the war, with little or no harassment from the government. When such actors were caught, the worst of the worst were released before their full sentences were served, and it's hard to believe that the Syrian government didn't know what kinds of activities they were going to resume.

I agree with other reviewers: in light of the detail provided for the origins and their early activities in the Iraqi theater, it's frustrating that the later, present part of the story can read as anecdotal. However, we should keep in mind that this remains a developing story. Given that, the level to which they could detail ISIS's activities, particularly in the tribal regions, is impressive. While our immediate thoughts of ISIS may be of beheadings and rape- and don't worry, the authors assure us that these do indeed happen- for some groups, particularly in Syria, they're a better governance bet than the alternatives. Will they be charged, ahem, usurious taxes? Yes, but the rule of law (such as it is) will be applied equally, regardless of wealth or family connections. ISIS knows how to play on social media better than most terrorist groups thus far, but they also know what to do once they're in charge. That may be the most terrifying thing about them.

Overall though, I closed the book feeling that ISIS was a much less frightening organization than popular reports would lead us to believe. Yes, they've committed unspeakable atrocities and caused misery for hundreds of thousands, but we are reminded that they are an organization of people- some of them with very common motivations- not supernatural monsters. I would have liked to have seen a prescription for how ISIS can be defeated before they die out on their own, but hopefully this will provide insights for those who are charged with answering that question.

Highly recommended for observers of MENA (Middle East and North Africa)


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