Neo-Jihadism & Transitional Challenges

The study of the Evolution of Jihad & Transitional Challenges in the Islamic World

“Neo-Jihadism is: a diverse, syncretic form of global organisation and interaction that emerged from within Islamic Jihadism; unique to the early-twenty-first-century; increasingly sectarian; and through its advocacy of a violent form of war and selectively literal interpretations of sacred texts, radically differentiates itself from the traditional Jihadist forces, the Islamic faith’s mainstream and constitutes a new body of thought and actions.”

– ‘Neo-Jihadism: a New Form of Jihadism; Leading and Emerging Actors


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Within in the last decade, the Islamic world has gone through monumental shifts that have had severe implications on its landscape. The fallout of the ‘Global War on Terror’ the Arab revolutions and post-Arab revolution crises have transformed not only the states themselves, but also the non-state actors within and across the region. This programme aims at analysing the impact of these critical factors on the region. On the one hand, we aim to capture how the concept of Jihadism has – and continues to – evolve in order to identify its implications on the broader social, political, and religious spheres. And on the other, we aim to address how states deal with emerging transitional challenges. While these focuses were previously separated, combining these two research programmes offers a holistic, interconnected approach.

Jihadists represent a fraction of the larger mainstream Islamist movement, which dominates the social space in most Muslim societies.  Jihadism does not possess a viable broad social base like the Muslim Brotherhood. From the late 1960s until the mid-1990s, militant Islamists or jihadists were preoccupied with the fight against Al-Adou al-Qareeb (the “near enemy”) Muslim rulers. The primary goal of modern Jihadism is and always has been the destruction of the atheist political and social order at home and its replacement with authentic Islamic states.  One silver lining for Al Qaeda, however, is its affiliate organizations. In Iraq, Syria, the Maghreb, Somalia, Yemen, and Egypt, Al Qaeda has won over formidable local allies to its cause, expanding its reach, power, and numbers in the process. This string of mergers is not over. In places as diverse as the Sinai Peninsula and Nigeria, Al Qaeda-linked organizations are emerging. Jihadism today is neither transnational such as Al-Qaeda central, nor national, such as Hezbollah, but regional. It is also increasingly more sectarian.  As the Jihadists’ landscape changes, the study and understanding of Jihadism must also adapt to address the developing movement of ‘Neo-Jihadism’:

Neo-Jihadism is a diverse, syncretic form of global organisation and interaction that emerged from within Islamic Jihadism, is unique to early-twenty-first-centuries, is increasingly sectarian and through its advocacy of violent form of war and selectively literal interpretations of sacred texts, radically differentiates itself from the traditional Jihadist forces, the faith’s mainstream and constitutes a new body of thought and actions.

– Neo-Jihadism: A new form of Jihadism, leading and emerging actors [FULL REPORT]

Furthermore, in analysing the effects of the Arab Spring on the nascent groups that have emerged in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya or situation in Afghanistan, it is important to distinguish between violence ensuing from the types of unrest that are typical of states undergoing regime change and that resulting from new groups projecting a jihadi agenda. Thus, it is necessary to also analyse the challenges that these transitional states face in order to understand the broader implications that these issues may have on regional stability. This feature expands on our previous programme ‘US Afghan withdrawal analyses; regional and global security implications’ (2012-2015). Conversely, in dealing with transitional challenges, the topics of security sector reform (SSR) and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) (which also builds on our previous I-SSR/DDR programme), becomes essential and must be integrated into a framework that deals with both radicalisation and deradicalisation.

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This programme takes a two-branch approach in that first, it aims to conduct fact-based analyses of actual and potential uses of militancy and Jihadism as a tactic and belief and the changing concept of ‘war’ in the Muslim world. And second, it aims to identify and analyse the challenging dynamics of states in transition, whether they are post-Arab spring or have been touched by the GWOT, in order to understand their impact on the region. In doing so, we offer policy guidance to government officials and private sector decision-makers with alternative policy analyses. The key research questions are:

  • How has Neo-Jihadism developed & how does it continue to evolve?
  • Is Neo-Jihadism a new concept of war or culture?
  • How Jihadism is perceived within the Islamic world and does it still carry meanings of a ‘just war’?
  • How do its adherents maintain and facilitate it to transcend borders?
  • What strategies do Neojihadi groups use to garner legitimacy and support; how does this differ from traditional jihadi groups?
  • What recruitment strategies do Neojihadi groups employ? How do cross-border recruitment strategies differ? (Western vs. Islamic World)
  • For countries in transition, what factors contribute to radicalization? How does radicalization differ across geopolitical spaces?
  • How does state instability impact the emergence and spread  of Neo-Jihadi groups?
  • How can the institutionalisation of national dialogue and transitional justice processes contribute to building national unity?
  • In how far can institutionalising deradicalisation programmes (either through the state or through civil society organisations) aid in strengthening regional security?

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  • Mapping the regional wide strategic situation in regards to transitions;
  • Analyse post-Arab Spring, post-US withdrawal, and other transitional trends and their impacts on the region;
  • Assess the fault-lines of conflicts in the region;
  • Understand & address the key transitional challenges;
  • Observe & address the role of SSR/DDR in these transitions;
  • Evaluate concepts of deradicalisation and the role it plays in dealing with transitional challenges;
  • Produce alternative policy analyses on all above.

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  • Mapping the interplay between militant groups, the states and other external actors;
  • A conflict and forecast analysis on current and emerging threats that might change the Jihadist landscape;
  • In depth situation analyses on above issues, regional positioning and global powers interests etc.;
  • Alternative policy analyses that may serve in policy making on regional and global governance levels;
  • Strategic foresight for business and stakeholders that might be involved in the crisis affected regions.

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US-Afghan Withdrawal





SITUATION ANALYSIS | Syrian negotiations: A way out of quagmire?

FEB 2016

IISA’s situation analysis on the dynamics of negotiations and the possible outcomes.

Syria negotations situaiton analysis cover page

SITUATION ANALYSIS | The Islamic coalition against terrorism: A step forward or backward?

DEC 2015

IISA’s situation analysis on the formation of an Islamic coalition led by Saudi Arabia to fight terrorism.



ANALYSIS | The policies of Abdel Fatah El Sisi: Shielding Egypt from neo-Jihadism or creating a breeding ground for terrorism?

DEC 2015

President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has proclaimed that “Egypt is fighting a war of existence” against extremist forces in the Sinai region1 . Sisi has built his campaign and presidency around this war of existence, and hails himself to be the leader that will stop this plot to “break up Egypt and the Egyptians”. The Army general has cleverly employed a mix nationalism and fear to suppress Islamists and wreak havoc on the Sinai Peninsula. However, his tactics are backfiring, and the unintended consequence of the policies used in the Sinai is the rise in Islamic neo-Jihadism. The security of the Middle East region, already at the height of instability, is at risk as a result.



ANALYSIS | The Lack of U.S. Strategy in Syria

DEC 2015

Four years have passed since anti-government uprisings began in Syria. Throughout the conflict, several actors have intervened both state and non-state. The United States has offered support to some of the rebel factions opposed to the Assad regime, however it is argued that the U.S. does not have a coherent strategy, which has often become entangled between bringing about a new regime and combating the Islamic State. This paper will analyse the perceived lack of U.S. strategy in Syria and its implications.










ANALYSIS | Testing Tunisian Transition: The Law on Economic and Financial Reconciliation

OCT 2015

It has been nearly two years since Tunisia passed its progressive Transitional Justice Law, which solidified its commitment to national reconciliation, after more than twenty years of human rights abuses perpetuated by the corrupt dictatorial regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Now, the level of progress made in Tunisia’s transition is being put to the test. This paper examines the fault-lines of debate surrounding the Reconciliation Law, and outlines possible implications on Tunisia’s transitional process and shows that Tunisia’s democratic project is not yet finished.

testing tunisia transition updated pic

ANALYSIS | The Iran Deal’s Impact on Neo-Jihadism

OCT 2015

Following the P5+1 Iran nuclear deal, the likelihood of an exponential increase in violence across the region seems like a foregone conclusion. Apart from bolstering the Shia forces with the financial means to carry on their counter-Sunni war, Sunni militias themselves may well see an opportunity present itself as world powers descend on the region for their own political and financial interests.

Iran deals impact on neojihadism

OCT 2015 | BLOG

Russia & Iran: Shared Interests in Syria?

A blogpost by Omar Ahmed discussing convergence and divergence of Russian and Iranian interests in Syria.



SEPT 2015 | BLOG

 Kyrgyzstan election: A New Hope for the Region

A blogpost discussing convergence and divergence of Russian and Iranian interests in Syria.

Russia & Iran in Syria updated blogpost

AUG 2015 | BLOG

Libya: Islamic State and the failed Sirte Uprising

A blog post discussing a failed uprising against the Islamic State in Libya and its repercussions on the country’s internal dynamics.

IS Sirte bogpost


AUG 2015 | Special Report

 Revisiting ‘Hamasisation’ and Neo-Jihadism in Afghanistan

As Mullah Akhtar Mansoor takes charge of the Taliban movements, this special reports reflects on our previous findings in a current context and analyses upcoming trends.

Special report, Hamasisation Afghanistan

ANALYSIS | The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend: Israel and the Syrian Conflict

AUG 2015

As reports emerge of Israeli collusion with militant Islamist groups in southern Syria, many questions concerning the legitimacy of Israel’s actions are thrown to light. Does Israel have the right to defy international norms in its own interests? Can external actors condemn aiding terrorists without experiencing the same conditions of terror? And what alternatives are Israeli frightened of that would necessitate such a course of action? IISA unpicks Israel’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, assessing its motives and dynamics, as well as indicating possible future changes.

Israel in Syrian analysis

ANALYSIS | AQAP’s Future and the Problems of Succession

AUG 2015

With the loss of their charismatic leader al-Wuhayshi, AQAP’s future is anything but certain. On the threshold between irrelevance and ample opportunity, this jihadi faction’s future seems to hang on the capability of their new leader Qasim al-Raymi and his ability to exploit the opportunities the environment of Yemen’s civil war has provided while simultaneously hedging AQAP’s position against the potential threats of opposing domestic and foreign forces.

AQAP's future

ANALYSIS | A study of Saudi Arabia’s vulnerabilities to an Islamic State campaign

JULY 2015

The Islamic State represents a different threat to different actors. For Iraq it is destroying the very foundations of the state; for Syrian rebels it is tarnishing and blunting a righteous cause; for the Syrian regime it is a marauding foe; for the Kurds and minority groups it is an existential threat and so on. However, the Islamic State poses a unique threat to the al-Saud Kingdom – one that reaches in to the heart of Saudi society as well as the very legitimacy on which the Royal family stands on.

Saudi Arabia - IS analysis

VIDEO | Regional analysis on the Middle East

JULY 2015

A discussion by Researchers Mahmoud Swed, Yasmin Kamel and IISA’s director Usama Butt on the situation in the Middle East.

IISA video Middle east


ANALYSIS | ‘From Jihad to Caliphate’: Islamist merger and the battle for legitimacy in Syria

MAY 2015

The merger between Ahrar Al-Sham and Suqour Al-Sham highlighted an interesting development in the strategic coalition between various fractions of ‘Islamist groups’ in Syria.  This research will attempt to analyse the reasons behind this merger and the potential outcomes this may have in terms of the dynamic between Ahrar Al-sham and Jabhat Al-Nusra. Will they form an alliance and gain both territory and power together as they did in Idlib or will Ahrar Al- Sham become a ‘buffer’ as such, to the more hardline Islamist stance of Al-Nusra.. A strategic alliance or balancing dynamic?

Islamist merger in Syria

ANALYSIS | Neo-JIhadism and Islamic State’s evolving tactics

MAY 2015

With continued airstrikes targeting the Islamic State, the dramatic advances the group made in 2014 have significantly slowed. Yet, the particular neo-jihadi trends exemplified by the Islamic State are now apparent in their latest tactical approach aimed at consolidation of power and survival. The Islamic State’s tactics may look different than those of a year ago, but their aspirations remain the same; regional dominance in Iraq and Syria alongside a strong takfir doctrine. However, over the past year the group has seen considerable success in franchising their brand name out to jihadi groups across the entire Middle East and beyond, and this may represent a new element in their regional strategic approach in preserving the caliphate’s territorial gains.

IS tactics


IISA’s researchers on neo-Jihadism programme Yasmin Kamel and Max Quigley discuss the situation in Yemen and Syria.

IISA Podcast


ANALYSIS | Political turmoil in Yemen and Neo-Jihadism

MARCH 2015

As Yemen descends rapidly into a state of chaos, international attempts to diffuse what looks like an increasingly sectarian conflict seem unfruitful. But the strife is not only driving a deeper rift between political factions and tribal entities, but has also bolstered the position and influence of a perhaps much more dangerously capable player in the conflict, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP, an offshoot of al-Qaeda Core has increasingly moved towards acting in congruence with features of Neo-jihadism. These features, distinct in a growing number of present-day jihadi entities, include strong sectarian violence, regional ambitions, sophisticated governance and judicial apparatus, and a predilection for an offensive strain of jihad, which draws upon strong military rather than ideological discourses. Whereas AQAP were previously associated with primarily transnational and “far-enemy” tactics, their increased insurgency and regional aspirations within Yemen call attention to the increasing hallmarks of neo-jihadism within AQAP. Furthermore, with regional powers and radical groups, such as the Islamic State, all staking a claim in Yemen, there is now a distinct competitive nature to the neo-jihadi forces.

yemen neo-jihadism

VIDEO | Conference on ‘Neo-Jihadism’

JAN 2015

JAN 2015 | Special Report

 Neo-Jihadism: A New Form of Jihadism, leading and emerging actors

IISA presents a ground-breaking research – based on our promise of providing alternative analysis – into the evolution of Jihad and its implications on the Islamic world/global security. The paper explains the phenomenon of neo-Jihadism and the emergence and evolution of neo-Jihadists actors such as IS and Boko Haram etc.

neo-Jihadism paper full


 Syria, Iraq and the fight against IS

Katie Welsford,  IISA’s resident researcher and  Neo Jihadism programme manager,  discusses recent developments in Iraq, Syria and the fight against IS with Usama Butt, Director of IISA.

IISA Podcast

ANALYSIS | When borders are meaningless: The Islamic State in Iraq & Sham

JULY 2014

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham’s (ISIS) recent sweep across northern Iraq towards the capital has stunned the international community. But the group’s sights are set further than Baghdad – they are set on the Levant more widely. Whilst various internal dynamics will determine the success of the group in countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, we cannot afford to assume that the ‘ISIS threat’ will be restrained by borders.

ISIS report

ANALYSIS | Boko Haram, the West and the power of perception

MAY 2014

The recent Boko Haram kidnapping has increased the group’s publicity and internationalized the conflict. Although it has become clear that Nigeria is unable or unwilling to handle the militancy on its own, there are issues that arise from internationalizing the conflict. These include the problematic narrative of the conflict in the West and shifting responsibility away from the Nigerian government. Also significant is the classification of Boko Haram as an international problem, naming the group a foreign terrorist organization, and sanctioning them as a part of al-Qaeda.

Boko haram, the power of perception