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The Islamic State (IS) has emerged as modern history’s most successful and richest jihadist group. It has overshadowed al Qaeda, of which it was a part until 2014, with its ability to conquer territory, hold on to it, and establish the infrastructure of a state. With the declaration of a caliphate, it has also created a major divide and rivalry among jihadists and segments of the Salafi community that empathize in one way or another with jihadism.

Under air attack from a U.S.–led coalition since the summer of 2014 and confronting a Russian military assault that began in October 2015, IS has largely as of this writing been able to hold its ground. In doing so, it shares some characteristics with primarily African liberation movements ...

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