It has become a trope within the jihadi studies field to describe Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (born ‘Isam Bin Muhammad Bin Tahir al-Barqawi) as being the most important jihadi ideologue alive. Part of this derives from a study written by Will McCants in 2006 that notes he is the most cited living jihadi ideologue within jihadi primary source literature. At the time, in many ways, al-Qaeda (AQ) was also the unipolar leader of the jihadi world. Since then, cracks in the foundation of AQ’s leading role have created alternative visions for the future of the jihadi movement. Most notable has been the case of the Islamic State (IS), but another is that of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). In attempting to bolster their legitimacy, these different currents have moved away from al-Maqdisi and even derided him. The story of al-Maqdisi’s issues with the leader of IS’s predecessor, Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi, and of IS toying with him during fake negotiations over the Jordanian pilot Mu‘adh al-Kasasbah, are well-trodden at this point. But more recent recriminations between al-Maqdisi and HTS are also worth exploring since they signal a change in tone. Although there have been vigorous debates between al-Maqdisi and HTS over decisions to move away from AQ and HTS’s alleged “diluting” of its ideology, this latest round of argument augurs another broken chain within the jihadi movement and further cements the fact that claiming HTS is some kind of front for AQ is incorrect in the same way that saying ISIS was still within AQ in 2013 was wrong.
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