Emerging trends in the broader jihadi galaxy: between radicalization and new models of jihadism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This essay aims to delineate a series of deep changes that the jihadi galaxy has undergone at the doctrinal, operative and socio-political level since 2011. It will further outline the challenges it had to face, the different answers it tried to provide and the most important trends it took after more than ten years of absolute monopoly exerted by al-Qaʿida (AQ), a monopoly that the ascension of the self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his dispute with the AQ leadership publicly questioned. In doing so, the article tries to examine the complexity of a spectrum of actors who present much more different narratives and stances than is generally assumed. Beyond their common opposition to a nation-state system reflecting the fragmentation of the Dar al-Islam and its deviation from the path set by the Prophet, these actors share the objective of reinstating a Caliphate embodying the unity and the mythicized purity of the pristine Islamic community: an Islamic State able to reunite a ‘pure’ Muslim nation for too long divided by corruption, conflicting interests and external agendas. But, apart from these basic tenets, the various jihadi groups differ significantly on the modalities required to the world, as well as on the relations it should establish with the ‘Other’ and the role armed jihad should play in this quest. In this framework, the first part of the research describes the multiple challenges al-Qaʿida had to face before and after the explosion of the Arab Spring and the elimination of its founder and leader, Osama bin Laden, presenting the deep crisis the movement was experiencing less than ten years after it rose to prominence in the jihadi galaxy. The essay then moves on to delineate the dispute that arose between AQ and the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ (IS), an event that, especially in the wake of the latter’s largely unexpected success in 2014, led several analysts to sing the umpteenth requiem for al-Qaʿida. This section focuses in particular on describing AQ’s and IS’ different agendas, scopes and modus operandi, as well as their positions concerning the establishment of the Caliphate. Particular attention is dedicated to the different manhaj (methodology) they espouse, as well as to the umma they strive to ‘re-build’, and to their different stances towards the existing international order. The last part of the research examines the emergence of a series of actors who, while declaring their doctrinal proximity to the jihadi galaxy, present a series of distinctive features that could have a deep and long-lasting impact on the whole jihadi spectrum. Groups that appear to eschew the extreme and radical path the IS proposes but that seem not to fit completely into al-Qaʿida’s traditional universe either. In this regard, particular attention is given to the rise of Ansar al-Shariʿa. Its focus on daʿwa activities, its support for armed jihad (albeit only in operational theatres where no compromise with existing authorities is suitable), its long-term struggle for the creation of a new Islamic State and its political activism not rooted in democratic schemes all contribute to presenting it as a new model of socio-political activism and aggregation not at odds with the jihadi doctrinal milieu
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Struggle to Define a Nation: Rethinking Nationalism in the Contemporary Islamic World
Number of pages30
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Ansar al-Sharia
  • Islamic State
  • al-Qaeda
  • jihadism
  • nationalism


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