Almost overnight, the Islamic State sent its enemies reeling—and turned U.S. policy in the Middle East upside down. As troubling as the Islamic State’s successes are for U.S. officials, there is one person for whom they are even more troubling: Ayman al-Zawahiri. Although the Al Qaeda leader might be expected to rejoice at the emergence of a strong jihadist group that delights in beheading Americans (among other horrors), in reality the Islamic State’s rise risks Al Qaeda’s demise. When Islamic State leader
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi rejected Al Qaeda’s authority and later declared a caliphate, he split the fractious jihadist movement.
The two are now competing for more than the leadership of the jihadist movement: they are competing for its soul.”
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