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After the Islamic State

Robin Wright

Last May, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, the second most powerful leader in the Islamic State, hinted that the caliphate was crumbling. “Whoever thinks that we fight to protect some land or some authority, or that victory is measured thereby, has strayed far from the truth,” he said, in a long audio message that was released to fellow-jihadis. He also suggested a shift in strategy. “It is the same—whether Allah blesses us with consolidation or we move into the bare, open desert, displaced and pursued.”

Adnani, a thirty-nine-year-old Syrian, ran the organization’s propaganda shop and a secret foreign-operations unit that recruited, trained, and assigned élite forces to the toughest missions. He orchestrated the terror attacks at the Bataclan theatre, in Paris, last year, and at the Brussels airport, in March. By this summer, though, he was on the run, hiding for months in an apartment building with hundreds of civilians in Raqqa, a city in northern Syria that dates to antiquity and serves as the Islamic State’s capital. The United States had picked up his trail, but had to use “tactical patience,” a senior Pentagon official told me, to avoid heavy collateral damage. “He just didn’t budge,” a senior U.S. official added. “We waited.”


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