Islamic terrorism

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See also Muslim Terror Attacks on the West in 21st Century

Islamic terrorism is, essentially, a tautology as Islam itself teaches terrorism and is a violent ideology. The term is used widely to designate terrorist acts committed by Muslim groups or individuals who profess Islamic or Islamist motivations or goals. Islamic terrorists rely the Quran and the Hadith, citing these scriptures to justify violent tactics including mass murder,[1] genocide,[2][3][4] child molestation and slavery.[5][better source needed] In recent decades, incidents of Islamic terrorism have occurred on a global scale, occurring not only in Muslim-majority states in Africa and Asia, but also abroad in Europe, Russia, and the United States, and such attacks are overwhelming aimed at non-Muslims, though a few Muslims are occasionally involved accidentally or through suicide attacks.[6] In a number of the worst-affected Muslim-majority regions, these terrorists have been met by armed, independent resistance groups,[7] state actors and their proxies, and politically liberal Muslim protesters.[8]

Liberal Denialism

The prevalent liberal attitude towards Islamic terrorism, which dominates the press, TV and all mainstream media, is one of denialism. Despite such major incidents as the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001 [9] the acceptable liberal response is one of apology, palliation and insistence that Islam is not a violent ideology. Those who maintain that it is are accused of "racism" even though many of the most prominent warning voices are those of ex-Muslims such as Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali both of who are on official Muslim assassination target lists. Because of this liberal denialism, many of the facts about Muslim violence are not easily available on internet sources. Major search engines and leading social media sites suppress those who will not conform to the liberal view and censorship is widespread [10]

Liberal denialists criticize what they perceive to be the blanket usage of the term. Such use in Western political speech has variously been called "counter-productive," "unhelpful," "highly politicized, intellectually contestable" and "damaging to community relations."[11] This view, in turn, has been criticized by those who perceive it to be an act of evasion.[12]

Despite the steep rise in Muslim terrorist attacks, the leftwing British newspaper The Guardian publishes highly misleading articles denying the problem exists and attributing all serious concern to "racism". One Guardian article claimed that "in 2009, a Europol report showed that more than 99% of terrorist attacks in Europe over the last three years were, in fact, carried out by non-Muslims".[13][14][15] Such absurd figures are only reached by classifying such things as alleged hate-speech against foreigners or homosexuals as "terrorism". In fact, the current information coming from Europol in 2022 runs as follows:-

  "The overall terrorist threat to the security of the EU remains acute. The main concern of Member States is jihadist terrorism and the closely related phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters who travel to and from conflict zones. Recent attacks in the EU demonstrate the intent and capability of jihadist terrorists to inflict mass casualties on urban populations in an effort to induce a high state of well-publicised terror. The carefully planned attacks continue to demonstrate the elevated threat to the EU from an extremist minority operationally based in the Middle East, combined with a network of people born and raised in the EU, often radicalised within a short space of time, who have proven willing and able to act as facilitators and active accomplices in terrorism." [16]

Cross-border investigation of terrorism is run by the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) set up in 2016. Europol stated in 2017: "The ECTC supported 439 counter terrorism investigations. Of the 12 trends identified in the latest TE-SAT, most related to jihadist terrorism." [17]


Terrorism is not a symptom of "extremism within Islam". It is there in its roots. The founder of Islam, the self-styled "prophet" Mahomet, was a terrorist. He advocated and employed violence to rise to power, using tactics of massacre when he captured the city of Yathrib (Medina) in 627 AD and ordering the killing of thousands of Banu Qurayza Jews who refused to recognize him as a religious leader.[18] For the rest of his life Mahomet continued to wage war in order to impose his beliefs. He and his followers carried out countless acts of bloodthirsty atrocity. He raided caravans, killing defenders. Mahomet ordered the execution of prisoners and then when it suited him denied responsibility. [19] He ordered the assassination of critics who ridiculed him such as Abu Afak [20]

The doctrines of the 7th century the Kharijites were no more violent or extreme than those of mainstream Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. The Kharijites were particularly noted for adopting a radical approach to Takfir, whereby they declared other Muslims to be unbelievers and therefore deemed them worthy of death.[21][22][23]

Liberals rely on research that attempts to explain modern terrorism on personal psychological or sociological factors, rater than on Islam. The weakness of this is that many non-Muslims in the same circumstances do not carry out terror attacks.

According to Scott Atran, a NATO researcher studying suicide terrorism, the available evidence contradicts a number of simplistic explanations for the motivations of terrorists, including mental instability, poverty, and feelings of humiliation.[24]

Forensic psychiatrist and former foreign service officer Marc Sageman made an "intensive study of biographical data on 172 participants in the jihad," in his book Understanding Terror Networks.[25] He concluded social networks, the "tight bonds of family and friendship", rather than emotional and behavioral disorders of "poverty, trauma, madness, [or] ignorance", inspired alienated young Muslims to join the jihad and kill.[26]

Author Lawrence Wright described the characteristic of "displacement" of members of the most famous Islamic terrorist group, al-Qaeda:

What the recruits tended to have in common – besides their urbanity, their cosmopolitan backgrounds, their education, their facility with languages, and their computer skills – was displacement. Most who joined the jihad did so in a country other than the one in which they were reared. They were Algerians living in expatriate enclaves in France, Moroccans in Spain, or Yemenis in Saudi Arabia. Despite their accomplishments, they had little standing in the host societies where they lived."[27]

Scholar Olivier Roy describes the background of the hundreds of global (as opposed to local) terrorists who were incarcerated or killed and for whom authorities have records, as being surprising for their Westernized background; for the lack of Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans "coming to avenge what is going on in their country"; their lack of religiosity before being "born again" in a foreign country; the high percentage of converts to Islam among them; their "de-territorialized backgrounds" – "For instance, they may be born in a country, then educated in another country, then go to fight in a third country and take refuge in a fourth country"; their nontraditional belief that jihad is permanent, global, and "not linked with a specific territory."[28]

This profile differs from that found among recent local (as opposed to global) Islamist suicide bombers in Afghanistan, according to a 2007 study of 110 suicide bombers by Afghan pathologist Dr. Yusef Yadgari. Yadgari found that 80% of the attackers studied had some kind of physical or mental disability. The bombers were also "not celebrated like their counterparts in other Arab nations. Afghan bombers are not featured on posters or in videos as martyrs."[29] Daniel Byman, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, and Christine Fair, an assistant professor in peace and security studies at Georgetown University, say that many of the Islamic terrorists are foolish and untrained, perhaps even untrainable.[30]

Western foreign policy

People killed by terrorists worldwide

According to a graph by U.S State Department, terrorist attacks have escalated worldwide since the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.[31] Dame Eliza Manningham Buller, the former head of MI5, told the Iraq inquiry, the security services warned Tony Blair launching the War on Terror would increase theexplain threat of terrorism.[31][better source needed] Robert Pape has argued that at least terrorists utilizing suicide attacks – a particularly effective[32] form of terrorist attack – are driven not by Islamism but by "a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland."[33] However, Martin Kramer, who debated Pape on origins of suicide bombing, stated that the motivation for suicide attacks is not just strategic logic but also an interpretation of Islam to provide a moral logic. For example, Hezbollah initiated suicide bombings after a complex reworking of the concept of martyrdom. Kramer explains that the Israeli occupation of Lebanon raised the temperature necessary for this reinterpretation of Islam, but occupation alone would not have been sufficient for suicide terrorism.[34] "The only way to apply a brake to suicide terrorism," Kramer argues, "is to undermine its moral logic, by encouraging Muslims to see its incompatibility with their own values."

Former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer argues that terrorist attacks (specifically al-Qaeda attacks on America) are not motivated by a religiously inspired hatred of American culture or religion, but by the belief that U.S. foreign policy has oppressed, killed, or otherwise harmed Muslims in the Middle East,[35] condensed in the phrase "They hate us for what we do, not who we are." U.S. foreign policy actions Scheuer believes are fueling Islamic terror include: the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan and invasion of Iraq; Israel–United States relations, namely, financial, military, and political support for Israel;[36][37][38][39] U.S. support for "apostate" police states in Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco, and Kuwait;[40] U.S. support for the creation of an independent East Timor from territory previously held by Muslim Indonesia; perceived U.S. approval or support of actions against Muslim insurgents in India, the Philippines, Chechnya, and Palestine;[41] U.S. troops on Muslim 'holy ground' in Saudi Arabia; the Western world's religious discrimination against Muslim immigrants; historical justification, such as the Crusades.

Maajid Nawaz, in a debate with Mehdi Hasan, countered Scheuer's contention:

"a tiny minority, from within the non-Iraqi British Muslim communities, reacted with violence on 7 July 2005. To interpret this simply as a “nationalist struggle" to remove occupation ignores the blatantly obvious fact that, first, the terrorists were not Iraqis, they were British-Pakistanis (though British Iraqis have lived here for a long time); second, the vast majority of the Stop the War protesters were non-Muslims, yet only a handful from among a minority of Muslims reacted to the war with terrorism. Even though occupation may have caused agitation among the 7 July bombers, these northern-born lads with thick Yorkshire accents confessed in their suicide tapes to considering themselves soldiers with a mission to kill our people (Britons) on behalf of their people (Iraqis). The prerequisite to such a disavowal of one’s country of birth is a recalibration of identity; this is the undeniable role of ideological narratives."[42]

Religious motivation

According to one study in one country (Britain), there is little connection between religious piety and terrorism among Muslims. A "restricted" report of hundreds of case studies by the domestic counter-intelligence agency MI5 found that •

[f]ar from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.[43]•

Interpretations of the Qur'an and Hadith

The Princeton University Middle Eastern scholar Bernard Lewis states that Islamic jurisprudence does not allow terrorism.[44] In 2001, Professor Lewis noted:[45]

At no time did the (Muslim) jurist approve of terrorism. Nor indeed is there any evidence of the use of terrorism (in Islamic tradition).[46] Muslims are commanded not to kill women, children,[47] or the aged, not to torture or otherwise ill-treat prisoners,[48] The rules and regulations concerning prisoners of war in Islam to give fair warning of the opening of hostilities, and to honor agreements.[49] Similarly, the laws of Jihad categorically preclude wanton and indiscriminate slaughter.[50] The warriors in the holy war are urged not to harm non-combatants, women and children, "unless they attack you first." A point on which they insist is the need for a clear declaration of war before beginning hostilities, and for proper warning before resuming hostilities after a truce. What the classical jurists of Islam never remotely considered is the kind of unprovoked, unannounced mass slaughter of uninvolved civil populations that we saw in New York two weeks ago. For this there is no precedent and no authority in Islam.

But Bernard Lewis says Jihad is an unlimited offensive to bring the whole world under Islamic law; Christian crusades a defensive, limited response to, and imitation of, jihad.[51]

Even the Christian crusade, often compared with the Muslim jihad, was itself a delayed and limited response to the jihad and in part also an imitation. But unlike the jihad it was concerned primarily with the defense or reconquest of threatened or lost Christian territory...The Muslim jihad, in contrast, was perceived [by Muslims] as unlimited, as a religious obligation that would continue until all the world had either adopted the Muslim faith or submitted to Muslim rule.… The object of jihad is to bring the whole world under Islamic law.

Bernard Lewis says Islam imposes, without limit of time or space, the duty to subjugate non-Muslims.[52]

" is the duty of those who have accepted them [Allah's word and message] to strive unceasingly to convert or at least to subjugate those who have not. This obligation is without limit of time or space. It must continue until the whole world has either accepted the Islamic faith or submitted to the power of the Islamic state."

Michael Sells and Jane I. Smith (a Professor of Islamic Studies) write that barring some extremists like al-Qaeda, most Muslims do not interpret Qura’nic verses as promoting warfare; and that the phenomenon of radical interpretation of scripture by extremist groups is not unique to Islam.[53][54] According to Sells, "[Most Muslims] no more expect to apply [the verses at issue] to their contemporary non-Muslim friends and neighbors than most Christians and Jews consider themselves commanded by God, like the Biblical Joshua, to exterminate the infidels."[53]

According to Robert Spencer, Muhammad said in one Hadith:[55]

Furthermore, Muhammad said in another Hadith:[56]

And another Hadith:[57]

However, there are other Hadith that say:

And another Hadith:

Militant Islamic fundamentalist organisations portray their struggle in simply uncompromising terms. According to Antar Zouabri, a leader of a 1990s movement to establish an Islamic republic in Algeria, there can never be either dialogue or truce in his organisation’s struggle against the illegitimate, secular government. The word of God, he argued, is immutable: God does not negotiate or engage in discussion.[58]

According to others, Islamic terrorism is linked to the practice of divinely sanctioned warfare against apostates.[59][60] Many Muslim groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations argue that references to violence in Muslim sources have been taken out of context.[61][62][63] They argue that these Koranic ayahs are only for self-defense when non-believers endanger Muslim life.

In his book No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, Iranian-American scholar Reza Aslan argues that there is an internal battle currently taking place within Islam between individualistic reform ideals and the traditional authority of Muslim clerics,[64] similar to that of the 16th-century reformation in Christianity, which was as old as Islam currently is at that period.[65] He writes,

"the notion that historical context should play no role in the interpretation of the Koran – that what applied to Muhammad's community applies to all Muslim communities for all time – is simply an untenable position in every sense."[66]

According to conservative columnist Reihan Salam, the book has received a favorable response within the Muslim world.[67]

Societal motivations

Scott Atran has found the greatest predictors of suicide bombings to be not religion but group dynamics: While personal humiliation does not turn out to be a motivation for those attempting to kill civilians, the perception that others with whom one feels a common bond are being humiliated can be a powerful driver for action. "Small-group dynamics involving friends and family that form the diaspora cell of brotherhood and camaraderie on which the rising tide of martyrdom actions is based".[68] Terrorists, according to Atran, are social beings influenced by social connections and values. Rather than dying "for a cause," they might be said to have died "for each other." [24]

Economic motivations

The Muslim world has been afflicted with economic stagnation for many centuries.[69][70] In 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama stated that apart from crude oil, the exports of the entire Greater Middle East with its 400 million population roughly equals that of Switzerland.[71] It has also been estimated that the exports of Finland, a European country of only five million, exceeded those of the entire 370 million-strong Arab world, excluding oil and natural gas.[72] This economic stagnation is argued by historian David Fromkin in his work A Peace to End All Peace to have commenced with the demise of the Ottoman Empire in 1924, with trade networks being disrupted and societies torn apart with the creation of new nation states. Although the Ottoman Empire was referred to as the Sick man of Europe, the parts of the Middle East under Ottoman rule still had a diverse and steady growing economy with more general prosperity.[73]

Citizenship issues

Another cause of embarrassment and resentment is that since the 1950s, Muslim immigrants have been forced to emigrate to western countries in large numbers because fellow Muslim countries that are well-off economically and socially do not accept them. Out of the 57 Muslim majority countries, only two nations (Turkey and Malaysia) offer a formal path for immigrants to become naturalized citizens, regardless of birthplace, religious beliefs, marital status or ethnic origin. Even the oil-rich Gulf states do not grant citizenship to immigrants, regardless of how long they have resided in those countries. To make matters more difficult, Gulf states have stringent laws which explicitly state that an immigrant or expat can become a citizen only if his/her father was a citizen or, in some cases, if an expat woman marries an Arab national. These laws make it almost impossible for expats (both Muslim and non-Muslim) to gain citizenship.[74][75]

In 2014, the self-appointed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; the leader of the unrecognised Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took advantage of this resentment among some Muslims living in other Arab states and urged those Muslims to emigrate to the new Islamic state.[76] ISIS, also known as "The Islamic State," promised all Muslim immigrants "citizenship" immediately upon arrival. They even went as far as issuing "Caliphate Passports" to the newly arrived immigrants.[77]


One ideology that plays a role in terrorism by using the name of Islam, is Wahabism.[78][79][80][81][82] Wahabism and its allies including Salafism (Salafi jihadism) supports war against any one and every one who is not like them. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab (militant group), Boko Haram, Indonesian Mujahedeen Council, Taliban, Sipah Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Hizbul Mujahideen follow intolerant Wahabi or Salafi ideology which is opposed by other Muslims.[82][83][84] Non-Muslims, Sufis, and Shias are attacked by hard-core Wahhabis, Deobandis, and jamaatis in the same way that socialists and other leftist proletarians were assaulted by Mussolini's bandits, Jews and others by the Nazis, and "bourgeois," "kulak," intellectual, Jewish, "Menshevik," and "Trotskyist" dissenters, often only alleged to be so, by Stalinism. [85] In India, Wahabism was spread in the name of Deobandi movement,[86] which was opposed by more tolerant Sufi oriented Indian Muslims.

Transnational Islamist ideology, specifically of the militant Islamists, assert that Western policies and society are actively anti-Islamic, or as it is sometimes described, waging a "war against Islam". Islamists often identify what they see as a historical struggle between Christianity and Islam, dating back as far as the Crusades, among other historical conflicts between practitioners of the two respective religions. Osama bin Laden, for example, almost invariably described his enemy as aggressive and his call for action against them as defensive. Defensive jihad differs from offensive jihad in being "fard al-ayn," or a personal obligation of all Muslims, rather than "fard al-kifaya", a communal obligation, that is, some Muslims may perform it but it is not required from others. Hence, framing a fight as defensive has the advantage of both appearing to be a victim rather than an aggressor, and of giving the struggle the very highest religious priority for all good Muslims.

Many of the violent terrorist groups use the name of jihad to fight against certain Western nations and Israel. An example is bin Laden's al-Qaeda, which is also known as "International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders". Most militant Islamists oppose Israel's policies, and often its existence.

According to U.S. Army Colonel Dale C. Eikmeier, “ideology", rather than any individual or group, is the "center of gravity" of al-Qaeda and related groups, and that ideology is a "collection of violent Islamic thought called Qutbism."[87] He summarizes the tenets of Qutbism as being:

  • A belief that Muslims have deviated from true Islam and must return to "pure Islam" as originally practiced during the time of Muhammad.
  • The path to "pure Islam" is only through a literal and strict interpretation of the Quran and Hadith, along with implementation of Muhammad’s commands.
  • Muslims should interpret the original sources individually without being bound to follow the interpretations of Islamic scholars.
  • That any interpretation of the Quran from a historical, contextual perspective is a corruption, and that the majority of Islamic history and the classical jurisprudential tradition is mere sophistry.[87]

The historic rivalry between Hindus and Muslims in the Indian subcontinent has also often been the primary motive behind some of the most deadly terrorist attacks in India. According to a U.S. State Department report, India topped the list of countries most affected by Islamic terrorism.

In addition, Islamist militants, scholars, and leaders opposed Western society for what they see as immoral secularism. Islamists have claimed that such unrestricted free speech has led to the proliferation of pornography, immorality, secularism, homosexuality, feminism, and many other ideas that Islamists often oppose. Although bin Laden almost always emphasized the alleged oppression of Muslims by America and Jews when talking about them in his messages, in his "Letter to America," he answered the question, "What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you," with

We call you to be a people of manners, principles, honour, and purity; to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling's, and trading with interest (...) You separate religion from your policies, (...) You are the nation that permits Usury, which has been forbidden by all the religions (...) You are a nation that permits the production, trading and usage of intoxicants (...) You are a nation that permits acts of immorality (...) You are a nation that permits gambling in its all forms. (...) You use women to serve passengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women.[88]

Given their perceived piety, The Times noted the irony when an investigation discovered that Jihadists were seeking anonymity through some of the same networks used to distribute child pornography. The paper praised the raid's ability to "improve understanding of the mindsets of both types of criminals".[89] Similarly, Reuters reported that pornography was found among the materials seized from Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound that was raided by U.S. Navy SEALs.[90]

In 2006, Britain's then head of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller said of Al-Qaeda that it "has developed an ideology which claims that Islam is under attack, and needs to be defended". "This" she said "is a powerful narrative that weaves together conflicts from across the globe, presenting the West’s response to varied and complex issues, from long-standing disputes such as Israel/Palestine and Kashmir to more recent events as evidence of an across-the-board determination to undermine and humiliate Islam worldwide."[91] She said that the video wills of British suicide bombers made it clear that they were motivated by perceived worldwide and long-standing injustices against Muslims; an extreme and minority interpretation of Islam promoted by some preachers and people of influence; their interpretation as anti-Muslim of UK foreign policy, in particular the UK’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan."[91] She also cautioned how difficult it was to gain a proper perspective, saying that although there are more important dangers we face daily without feeling so threatened by them, such as climate change and road deaths, and though terrorist deaths were few, the intelligence services had prevented some potentially large threats and that vigilance was needed.[91]

Criticism of Islamic terrorist ideology

Although Islamic terrorism is commonly associated with the Salafis (or "Wahhabis"), the scholars of the group have constantly attributed this association to ignorance, misunderstanding and sometimes insincere research and deliberate misleading by rival groups.[92] Following the September 11 attacks, Abdul-Azeez ibn Abdullaah Aal ash-Shaikh, the Grand Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, made an official statement that "the Islamic Sharee'ah (legislation) does not sanction" such actions.[93] A Salafi "Committee of Major Scholars" in Saudi Arabia has declared that "Islamic" terrorism, such as the May 2003 bombing in Riyadh, are in violation of Sharia law and aiding the enemies of Islam.[94]

Criticism of Islamic terrorism on Islamic grounds has also been made by Abdal-Hakim Murad (Timothy Winter):

Certainly, neither bin Laden nor his principal associate, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are graduates of Islamic universities. And so their proclamations ignore 14 centuries of Muslim scholarship, and instead take the form of lists of anti-American grievances and of Koranic quotations referring to early Muslim wars against Arab idolaters. These are followed by the conclusion that all Americans, civilian and military, are to be wiped off the face of the Earth. All this amounts to an odd and extreme violation of the normal methods of Islamic scholarship. Had the authors of such fatwas followed the norms of their religion, they would have had to acknowledge that no school of mainstream Islam allows the targeting of civilians. An insurrectionist who kills non-combatants is guilty of baghy, “armed aggression," a capital offense in Islamic law.[95]

Colonel Eikmeier points out the "questionable religious credentials" of many Islamist theorists, or "Qutbists," which can be a "means to discredit them and their message":

With the exception of Abul Ala Maududi and Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, none of Qutbism’s main theoreticians trained at Islam’s recognized centers of learning. Although a devout Muslim, Hassan al-Banna was a teacher and community activist. Sayyid Qutb was a literary critic. Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj was an electrician. Ayman al-Zawahiri is a physician. Osama bin Laden trained to be a businessman.[96]

Fethullah Gülen, a prominent Turkish Islamic scholar, has claimed that "a real Muslim," who understood Islam in every aspect, could not be a terrorist.[97][98][99] There are many other people with similar points of view[100] such as Karen Armstrong,[101] Prof. Ahmet Akgunduz,[102] Harun Yahya[103] and Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri.[104] Huston Smith, an author on comparative religion, noted that extremists have hijacked Islam, just as has occurred periodically in Christianity, Hinduism and other religions throughout history. He added that the real problem is that extremists do not know their own faith.[105]

Ali Gomaa, former Grand Mufti of Egypt, stated not only for the Islam but in general: "Terrorism cannot be born of religion. Terrorism is the product of corrupt minds, hardened hearts, and arrogant egos, and corruption, destruction, and arrogance are unknown to the heart attached to the divine."[106]

Identity-based frameworks for analyzing Islamist-based terrorism

Islamist-based fundamentalist terrorism against Western nations and the U.S. in particular, has numerous motivations and takes place the larger context of a complex and tense relationship between the 'West' and the Arab and Muslim 'world,'[107] which is highlighted in the previous section on motivations and Islamic terrorism. Identity-based theoretical frameworks, including theories of social identity, social categorization theory, and psychodynamics are used to explain the reasons terrorism occurs.[108]

Social identity is explained by Karina Korostelina as a "feeling of belonging to a social group, as a strong connection with social category, and as an important part of our mind that affects our social perceptions and behavior"[109] This definition can be applied to the case of Osama bin Laden, who, according to this theory, had a highly salient perception of his social identity as a Muslim, a strong connection to the social category of the Muslim Ummah or 'community,' which affect his social perceptions and behaviors.[110] Bin Laden's ideology and interpretation of Islam led to the creation of al-Qaeda in response to perceived threats against the Muslim community by the Soviet Union, the U.S. in particular due to its troop presence in Saudi Arabia, and American support for Israel.[111] The Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda has a group identity, which includes “shared experiences, attitudes, beliefs, and interests of in-group members," and is “described through the achievement of a collective aim for which this group has been created,"[112] which in this case is to achieve "a complete break from the foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new Islamic caliphate."

Social categorization theory has been discussed as a three-stage process of identification, where “individuals define themselves as members of a social group, learn the stereotypes and norms of the group, and group categories influence the perception and understanding of all situations in a particular context"[109] This definition can be applied to the U.S.-led war on terror, in which conflict features such as the phenomenon of Anti-Americanism[113] and the phenomenon of non-Arab countries like Iran and Afghanistan lending support to Islamist-based terrorism by funding or harboring terrorist groups such as Hezbollah[114] and al-Qaeda[115] against Western nations, particularly Israel[116] and the United States[117] are, according to social categorization theory, influenced by a three-stage process of identification. In this three-stage process of identification, the Arab and Muslim world(s) are the social group(s), in which their members learn stereotypes and norms which categorize their social group vis-à-vis the West.[118] This social categorization process creates feelings of high-level in-group support and allegiance among Arabs and Muslims and the particular context within which members of the Arab and Muslim world(s) social group(s) understand all situations that involve the West. Social categorization theory as a framework for analysis indicates causal relationships between group identification processes and features of conflict situations.[119]

Muslim attitudes toward terrorism

Muslim popular opinion on the subject of attacks on civilians by Islamist groups varies. Fred Halliday, a British academic specialist on the Middle East, argues that most Muslims consider these acts to be egregious violations of Islam's laws.[120] Muslims living in the West denounce the September 11th attacks against United States, while Hezbollah contends that their rocket attacks against Israeli civilian targets are defensive Jihad by a legitimate resistance movement rather than terrorism.[121][122] Subsequently, however, on Osama bin Laden's death, some Muslims in the UK came out on streets in support of Osama, announcing him as an Islamic hero and condemned the role of US and west in killing him. The protest against Bin Laden’s death was organised by controversial preacher Anjem Choudary – who praised both 7/7 and the September 11 attacks.[123] Statistics compiled by the United States government's Counterterrorism Center present a complicated picture: of known and specified terrorist incidents from the beginning of 2004 through the first quarter of 2005, slightly more than half of the fatalities were attributed to Islamic extremists but a majority of over-all incidents were considered of either "unknown/unspecified" or a secular political nature. The vast majority of the "unknown/unspecified" terrorism fatalities did however happen in Islamic regions such as Iraq and Afghanistan, or in regions where Islam is otherwise involved in conflicts such as the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, southern Thailand and Kashmir.

View of Islamic law

Although the murder of Muslims is always forbidden in Islam,[citation needed] the murder of non-Muslims is also prohibited in certain circumstances. Many Muslim scholars have presented subjective evidence against the religious justification of terrorism against certain non-Muslims, a notable example being that of Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen who states regarding killing a non-Muslim who is living in an Islamic state or with whom Muslims have a peace treaty:[124] "As for a non-Muslim living under Muslim rule and a Mu’āhid (a Non-Muslim ally with whom Muslims have a treaty, trust, peace, or agreement), the prophet said: “Whoever kills a Mu’āhid will not even smell the fragrance of paradise and its fragrance can be smelled from the distance of forty years away."[citation needed] and he also said: “Certainly, one of the most difficult situations for which there is no turning back for whomever casts himself into it - shedding sacred blood without right."[citation needed] However, this does not address the killing of non-Muslims living outside the Islamic world who do not have a specific treaty with Muslims.

Another example is that of late scholar Abd al-Aziz Ibn Baz who stated: "It is well-known to anyone with the slightest amount of common sense that hijacking planes and kidnapping embassy officials and similar acts are some of the greatest universal crimes that result in nothing but widespread corruption and destruction. They place such extreme hardships and injuries upon innocent people, the extent of which only Allāh knows."[125][weasel words]

Numerous fatwas (rulings) condemning terrorism and suicide bombing as haram have been published by Islamic scholars worldwide, one of the most extensive being the 600-page[clarification needed] ruling by Sheikh Tahir-ul-Qadri, whose fatwa condemned them as kufir.[126] On 2 March 2010, Qadri's fatwa was an "absolute" condemnation of terrorism without "any excuses or pretexts." He said that "Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it, or any kind of excuses or ifs or buts." Qadri said his fatwa, which declares terrorists and suicide bombers to be unbelievers, goes further than any previous denunciation.[127] Iranian Ayatollah Ozma Seyyed Yousef Sanei issued a fatwa (ruling) that suicide attacks against civilians are legitimate only in the context of war.[128] The ruling did not say whether other types of attacks against civilians are justified outside of the context of war, nor whether jihad is included in Sanei's definition of war.

An influential group of Pakistani scholars and religious leaders denounced suicide attacks and beheadings[weasel words] as un-Islamic. 'Ulema' (clerics) and 'mushaikh' (spiritual leaders) of the Jamaat Ahl-e-Sunnah, who gathered for a convention, declared suicide attacks and beheadings as un-Islamic in a unanimous resolution. Chairman of the Pakistani Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, said in his address that those who were fighting in the name of implementing Shariah or Islamic law must first abide by these same laws and killing minors is contrary to the teachings of Islam.[129]

Some contemporary scholars who have followed a textual based approach to the study of the Quran with an emphasis over the coherence in the Book and the context of situation offered a radical interpretation on the verses and prophetic narratives that are usually quoted by the militants to promote militancy. According to Javed Ahmad Ghamidi (his booklet on Jihad is considered one of his most important contribution towards understanding the religion according to the principles of interpreting the Quran introduced by Farahi and Islahi) the Quran does not allow waging war except for against oppression[weasel words] under a sovereign state. He holds that jihad without a state is nothing but creating nuisance in the land when hijacked by the individuals and groups independent of the state authority defeats the purpose. The principle behind this study of the issue in the basic sources is the principle that there are divine injunctions in the Qur'an which are specific to the age of the Messenger. He says[weasel words]that nobody can be punished for apostasy or being non-Muslim after the Prophet who acted as the divine agent when he punished the disbelievers by sword who had rejected the message of God and his messenger even after the truth was made manifest to them. Ghamidi and his associates have written extensively on the topics related to these issues. In his book Meezan Ghamidi has concluded that:

  1. Jihad can only be waged against persecution[130] Islamic jihad has only two purposes:[weasel words] putting an end to persecution even that of the non-Muslims and making the religion of Islam reign supreme in the Arabian peninsula. The latter type was specific for the messenger of God and is no more operative.[weasel words]
  2. Under a sovereign state.[131]
  3. There are strict[132] ethical limits for jihad which do not again allow fighting for example non-combatants.[weasel words]
  4. Seen in this perspective acts of terrorism including suicide bombing becomes prohibited.[133][weasel words]

Opinion surveys

  • Gallup conducted tens of thousands of hour-long, face-to-face interviews with residents of more than 35 predominantly Muslim countries between 2001 and 2007. It found that more than 90% of respondents condemned the killing of non-combatants on religious and humanitarian grounds.[134]
  • In 2004, a year after the invasion of Iraq, Pew Research Center survey found that suicide bombings against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq were seen as "justifiable" by many Jordanians (70%), Pakistanis (46%), and Turks (31%). At the same time, the survey found that support for the U.S.-led War on Terror had increased.[135][136]
  • A 2005 Pew Research study, that involved 17,000 people in 17 countries showed support for terrorism was declining in the Muslim world along with a growing belief that Islamic extremism represents a threat to those countries.[137] A Daily Telegraph survey[138] showed that 88% of Muslims said the July 2005 bombings in the London Underground were unjustified, while 6% disagreed. However it also found that 24% of British Muslims showed some sympathy with the people who carried out the attacks.
  • Polls taken by Saudi owned Al Arabiya and Gallup suggest moderate support for the September 11 terrorist attacks within the Islamic world, with 36% of Arabs polled by Al Arabiya saying the 9/11 attacks were morally justified, 38% disagreeing and 26% of those polled being unsure.[139] A 2008 study, produced by Gallup, found similar results with 38.6% of Muslims questioned believing the 9/11 attacks were justified.[140] Another poll conducted, in 2005 by the Fafo Foundation in the Palestinian Authority, found that 65% of respondents supported the September 11 attacks.[141]
  • In Pakistan, despite the recent rise in the Taliban's influence, a poll conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow in Pakistan in January 2008 tested support for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, other militant Islamist groups and Osama bin Laden himself, and found a recent drop by half. In August 2007, 33% of Pakistanis expressed support for al-Qaeda; 38% supported the Taliban. By January 2008, al-Qaeda's support had dropped to 18%, the Taliban's to 19%. When asked if they would vote for al-Qaeda, just 1% of Pakistanis polled answered in the affirmative. The Taliban had the support of 3% of those polled.[134]
  • Pew Research surveys in 2008, show that in a range of countries – Jordan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Lebanon, and Bangladesh – there have been substantial declines in the percentages saying suicide-bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets can be justified to defend Islam against its enemies. Wide majorities say such attacks are, at most, rarely acceptable. The shift of attitudes against terror has been especially dramatic in Jordan, where 29% of Jordanians were recorded as viewing suicide-attacks as often or sometimes justified (down from 57% in May 2005). In the largest majority-Muslim nation, Indonesia, 74% of respondents agree that terrorist attacks are "never justified" (a substantial increase from the 41% level to which support had risen in March 2004); in Pakistan, that figure is 86%; in Bangladesh, 81%; and in Iran, 80%.[134]
  • A poll conducted in Osama bin Laden's home country of Saudi Arabia in December 2008 shows that his compatriots have dramatically turned against him, his organisation, Saudi volunteers in Iraq, and terrorism in general. Indeed, confidence in bin Laden has fallen in most Muslim countries in recent years.[134]

Examples of organizations and acts

Countries in which Islamist terrorist attacks have occurred between September 11, 2001, and May 2013[142]
The "black flag of Jihad" as used by various Islamist organisations (since the late 1990s) consists of a white-on-black shahada

Some prominent Islamic terror groups and incidents include the following:

South America


The 1992 attack on Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, was a suicide bombing attack on the building of the Israeli embassy of Argentina, located in Buenos Aires, which was carried out on 17 March 1992. Twenty-nine civilians were killed in the attack and 242 additional civilians were injured. A group called Islamic Jihad Organization, which has been linked to Iran and possibly Hezbollah,[143] claimed responsibility.

An incident from 1994, known as the AMIA bombing, was an attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) building in Buenos Aires. It occurred on July 18 and killed 85 people and injured hundreds more.[144] A suicide bomber drove a Renault Trafic van bomb loaded with about 275 kilograms (606 lb) of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil explosive mixture,[145][146] into the Jewish Community Center building located in a densely constructed commercial area of Buenos Aires. Prosecutors Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martínez Burgos formally accused the government of Iran of directing the bombing, and the Hezbollah militia of carrying it out.[147][148] The prosecution claimed that Argentina had been targeted by Iran after Buenos Aires' decision to suspend a nuclear technology transfer contract to Tehran.[149]

Central Asia


According to Human Rights Watch, Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin forces have "sharply escalated bombing and other attacks" against civilians since 2006. In 2006, "at least 669 Afghan civilians were killed in at least 350 armed attacks, most of which appear to have been intentionally launched at civilians or civilian objects."[150]


The government blamed the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) for training those responsible for carrying out a suicide car bombing of a police station in Khujand on September 3, 2010. Two policemen were killed and 25 injured.[151]


On February 16, 1999, six car bombs exploded in Tashkent, killing 16 and injuring more than 100, in what may have been an attempt to assassinate President Islam Karimov. The IMU was blamed.[152]

The IMU launched a series of attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara in March and April 2004. Gunmen and female suicide bombers took part in the attacks, which mainly targeted police. The violence killed 33 militants, 10 policemen, and four civilians.[153] The government blamed Hizb ut-Tahrir,[154] though the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) claimed responsibility.[155]

Furkat Kasimovich Yusupov was arrested in the first half of 2004, and charged as the leader of a group that had carried out the March 28 bombing on behalf of Hizb ut-Tahrir.[156]

On July 30, 2004, suicide bombers struck the entrances of the US and Israeli embassies in Tashkent. Two Uzbek security guards were killed in both bombings.[157] The IJU again claimed responsibility.[155]

Foreign commentators on Uzbek affairs speculated that the 2004 violence could have been the work of the IMU, Al-Qaeda, Hizb ut-Tahrir, or some other radical Islamic organization.[158][159]


Major lethal attacks on civilians in Europe credited to Islamist terrorism include the 1985 El Descanso bombing in Madrid, the 1995 Paris Metro bombings, 11 March 2004 bombings of commuter trains in Madrid, where 191 people were killed, the 7 July 2005 London bombings, also of public transport, which killed 52 commuters, and the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, in Paris, where 12 people were killed due to the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo depicting cartoons of Muhammad. On November 13, 2015 the French capital was victim of a series of simultaneous attacks, claimed by ISIS, that killed 129 people[160] in restaurants, the Bataclan theatre and the Stade de France during the France-Germany international friendly football match.

United Kingdom

In the UK, MI5 monitors more than 43,000 people who are considered to pose a potential terrorist threat to the UK. Almost all are Muslims. There are similar number in France and in all Western European countries, and the cost of monitoring and surveillance borne by the public is considerable. After the 2017 attacks at London Bridge and Manchester Arena, it was revealed that MI5 had about 23,000 current and historic suspects on its radar. This included 3,000 so-called subjects of interest (SOI) who were under active investigation, as well as 20,000 people who had been investigated in the past and who might engage in terrorism in the future. The latter are known as “closed” subjects of interest (CSOI) and included terrorists such as Salman Abedi, who went on to kill 22 people in the Manchester Arena suicide bombing. [161] 78 Muslim terrorists organizations are kept under surveillance. [162]

Eastern Europe

Beslan school victim photos

Politically and religiously motivated attacks on civilians in Russia have been traced to separatist sentiment among the largely Muslim population of its North Caucasus region, particularly in Chechnya, where the central government of the Russian Federation has waged two bloody wars against the local secular separatist government since 1994. In the Moscow theater hostage crisis in October 2002, three Chechen separatist groups took an estimated 850 people hostage in the Russian capital; at least 129 hostages died during the storming by Russian special forces, all but one killed by the chemicals used to subdue the attackers (whether this attack would more properly be called a nationalist rather than an Islamist attack is in question). In the September 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis more than 1,000 people were taken hostage after a school in the Russian republic of North Ossetia–Alania was seized by a pro-Chechen multi-ethnic group aligned to Riyad-us Saliheen Brigade of Martyrs; hundreds of people died during the storming by Russian forces.[163]

Since 2000, Russia has also experienced a string of suicide bombings that killed hundreds of people in the Caucasian republics of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, as well as in Russia proper including Moscow. Responsibility for most of these attacks were claimed by either Shamil Basayev's Islamic-nationalist rebel faction or, later, by Dokka Umarov's pan-Islamist movement Caucasus Emirate which is aiming to unite most of Russia's North Caucasus as an emirate since its creation in 2007.[164] Since the creation of the Caucasus Emirate, the group has abandoned its secular nationalist goals and fully adopted the ideology of Salafist-takfiri Jihadism[165] which seeks to advance the cause of Allah on the earth by waging war against the Russian government and non-Muslims in the North Caucasus, such as the local Sufi Muslim population, whom they view as mushrikeen (polytheists) who do not adhere to true Islamic teachings. In 2011, the U.S. Department of State included the Caucasus Emirate on its list of terrorist organisations.[166]


Hezbollah in Turkey (unrelated to the Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon) is a Sunni terrorist group[167] accused of a series of attacks, including the November 2003 bombings of two synagogues, the British consulate in Istanbul and HSBC bank headquarters that killed 58.[168] Hizbullah's leader, Hüseyin Velioğlu, was killed in action by Turkish police in Beykoz on 17 January 2000. Besides Hizbullah, other Islamic groups listed as a terrorist organization by Turkish police counter-terrorism include Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front, al-Qaeda in Turkey, Tevhid-Selam (also known as al-Quds Army) and Caliphate State. Islamic Party of Kurdistan and Hereketa İslamiya Kurdistan are also Islamist groups active against Turkey, however unlike Hizbullah they're yet to be listed as active terrorist organizations in Turkey by Turkish police counter-terrorism.[169]

Middle East / Southwest Asia


The area that has seen some of the worst terror attacks in modern history has been Iraq as part of the Iraq War. In 2005, there were 400 incidents of one type of attack (suicide bombing), killing more than 2,000 people – many if not most of them civilians.[170] n 2006, almost half of all reported terrorist attacks in the world (6,600), and more than half of all terrorist fatalities (13,000), occurred in Iraq, according to the National Counterterrorism Center of the United States.[171] Along with nationalist groups and criminal, non-political attacks, the Iraqi insurgency includes Islamist insurgent groups, such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, who favor suicide attacks far more than non-Islamist groups. At least some of the terrorism has a transnational character in that some foreign Islamic jihadists have joined the insurgency.[172]

Israel and the Palestinian territories

Hamas ("zeal" in Arabic and an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya) began support for attacks on military and civilian targets in Israel at the beginning of the First Intifada in 1987.[173] The 1988 charter of Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel.[174] Its "military wing" has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in Israel, principally suicide bombings and rocket attacks. Hamas has also been accused of sabotaging the Israeli-Palestine peace process by launching attacks on civilians during Israeli elections to anger Israeli voters and facilitate the election of harder-line Israeli candidates.[175] Hamas has been designated as a terrorist group by the Canada, the United States, Israel, Australia, Japan, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and Human Rights Watch. It is banned in Jordan. Russia does not consider Hamas a terrorist group as it was "democratically elected".[176] During the second intifada (September 2000 through August 2005) 39.9 percent of the suicide attacks were carried out by Hamas.[177] The first Hamas suicide attack was the Mehola Junction bombing in 1993.[178] Hamas justifies these attacks as necessary in fighting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, and the attacks continue despite the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Hamas controlled territory as Israel continues to occupy other Palestinian territory, namely the West Bank, as well as keeping Gaza under siege. Hamas still states its goal to be the elimination of Israel.[179] The wider Hamas movement also serves as a charity organization and provides services to Palestinians.[180]

Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine is a Palestinian Islamist group based in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and dedicated to waging jihad to eliminate the state of Israel. It was formed by Palestinian Fathi Shaqaqi in the Gaza Strip following the Iranian Revolution which inspired its members. From 1983 onward, it engaged in "a succession of violent, high-profile attacks" on Israeli targets. The Intifada which "it eventually sparked" was quickly taken over by the much larger Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas.[181] Beginning in September 2000, it started a campaign of suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians. The PIJ's armed wing, the Al-Quds brigades, has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks in Israel, including suicide bombings. The group has been designated as a terrorist organization by several Western countries.


Hezbollah first emerged in 1982, as a militia during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, also known as Operation Peace for Galilee.[182][183] Its leaders were inspired by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and its forces were trained and organized by a contingent of Iranian Revolutionary Guards.[184] Hezbollah's 1985 manifesto listed its three main goals as "putting an end to any colonialist entity" in Lebanon, bringing the Phalangists to justice for "the crimes they [had] perpetrated," and the establishment of an Islamic regime in Lebanon.[185][186] Hezbollah leaders have also made numerous statements calling for the destruction of Israel, which they refer to as a "Zionist entity... built on lands wrested from their owners."[185][186]

Hezbollah, which started with only a small militia, has grown to an organization with seats in the Lebanese government, a radio and a satellite television-station, and programs for social development.[187] They maintain strong support among Lebanon's Shi'a population, and gained a surge of support from Lebanon's broader population (Sunni, Christian, Druze) immediately following the 2006 Lebanon War,[188] and are able to mobilize demonstrations of hundreds of thousands.[189] Hezbollah along with some other groups began the 2006–2008 Lebanese political protests in opposition to the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.[190] A later dispute over Hezbollah preservation of its telecoms network led to clashes and Hezbollah-led opposition fighters seized control of several West Beirut neighborhoods from Future Movement militiamen loyal to Fouad Siniora. These areas were then handed over to the Lebanese Army.[191]

A national unity government was formed in 2008, in Lebanon, giving Hezbollah and its opposition allies control of 11 of 30 cabinets seats; effectively veto power.[192] Hezbollah receives its financial support from the governments of Iran and Syria, as well as donations from Lebanese people and foreign Shi'as.[193][194] It has also gained significantly in military strength in the 2000s.[195] Despite a June 2008 certification by the United Nations that Israel had withdrawn from all Lebanese territory,[196] in August, Lebanon's new Cabinet unanimously approved a draft policy statement which secures Hezbollah's existence as an armed organization and guarantees its right to "liberate or recover occupied lands." Since 1992, the organization has been headed by Hassan Nasrallah, its Secretary-General. The United States, Canada, Israel, Bahrain,[197][198][199] France,[200] Gulf Cooperation Council,[201] and the Netherlands regard Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, while the United Kingdom, the European Union[202] and Australia consider only Hezbollah's military wing or its external security organization to be a terrorist organization. Many consider it, or a part of it, to be a terrorist group[203][204] responsible for blowing up the American embassy[205] and later its annex, as well as the barracks of American and French peacekeeping troops and a dozens of kidnappings of foreigners in Beirut.[206][207] It is also accused of being the recipient of massive aid from Iran,[208] and of serving "Iranian foreign policy calculations and interests,"[206] or serving as a "subcontractor of Iranian initiatives"[207] Hezbollah denies any involvement or dependence on Iran.[209] In the Arab and Muslim worlds, on the other hand, Hezbollah is regarded as a legitimate and successful resistance movement that drove both Western powers and Israel out of Lebanon.[210] In 2005, the Lebanese Prime Minister said of Hezbollah, it "is not a militia. It's a resistance."[211]

Fatah al-Islam is an Islamist group operating out of the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon. It was formed in November 2006, by fighters who broke off from the pro-Syrian Fatah al-Intifada, itself a splinter group of the Palestinian Fatah movement, and is led by a Palestinian fugitive militant named Shaker al-Abssi.[212] The group's members have been described as militant jihadists,[213] and the group itself has been described as a terrorist movement that draws inspiration from al-Qaeda.[212][213][214] Its stated goal is to reform the Palestinian refugee camps under Islamic sharia law,[215] and its primary targets are the Lebanese authorities, Israel and the United States.[212]

Saudi Arabia


North Africa



The Armed Islamic Group, active in Algeria between 1992 and 1998, was one of the most violent Islamic terrorist groups, and is thought to have takfired the Muslim population of Algeria. Its campaign to overthrow the Algerian government included civilian massacres, sometimes wiping out entire villages in its area of operation. It also targeted foreigners living in Algeria, killing more than 100 expatriates in the country. In recent years it has been eclipsed by a splinter group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), now called Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb.[216][217]

North America


According to recent government statements Islamic terrorism is the biggest threat to Canada.[218] The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) reported that terrorist radicalization at home is now the chief preoccupation of Canada's spy agency.[219] The most notorious arrest in Canada's fight on terrorism, was the 2006 Ontario terrorism plot in which 18 Al-Qaeda-inspired cell members were arrested for planning a mass bombing, shooting, and hostage taking terror plot throughout Southern Ontario. There have also been other arrests mostly in Ontario involving terror plots.[220]

United States

Between 1993 and 2001, the major attacks or attempts against US interests stemmed from militant Islamic jihad extremism except for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.[221] In September 2001, 2,977 civilians (including EMS workers), law enforcement officers, firefighters, and military personnel were killed in the September 11 attacks organized by 19 al-Qaeda members and largely perpetrated by Saudi nationals, sparking the War on Terror. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden considers homegrown terrorism to be the most dangerous threat and concern faced by American citizens today.[222] As of July 2011, there have been 52 homegrown jihadist extremist plots or attacks in the United States since the September 11 attacks.[223]

South Asia


In Bangladesh, the group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh was formed sometime in 1998, and gained prominence in 2001.[224] The organization was officially banned in February 2005 after attacks on NGOs, but struck back in August when 300 bombs were detonated almost simultaneously throughout Bangladesh, targeting Shahjalal International Airport, government buildings and major hotels.[225][226]

The Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), also called Ansar Bangla is an Islamic extremist organization in Bangladesh, implicated in crimes including some brutal attacks and murders of atheist bloggers from 2013 to 2015 and a bank heist in April 2015.[227][228]

Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (Arabic: حركة الجهاد الإسلامي‎‎, Ḥarkat al-Jihād al-Islāmiyah, meaning "Islamic Jihad Movement", HuJI) is an Islamic fundamentalist organisation most active in South Asian countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India since the early 1990s. It was banned in Bangladesh in 2005.


Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are militant groups seeking accession of Kashmir to Pakistan from India.[229] The Lashkar leadership describes Indian and Israel regimes as the main enemies of Islam and Pakistan that is an extremist thought but is not real.[230] Lashkar-e-Toiba, along with Jaish-e-Mohammed, another militant group active in Kashmir are on the United States’ foreign terrorist organizations list, and are also designated as terrorist groups by the United Kingdom,[231] India, Australia[232] and Pakistan.[233] Jaish-e-Mohammed was formed in 1994 and has carried out a series of attacks all over India.[234][235] The group was formed after the supporters of Maulana Masood Azhar split from another Islamic militant organization, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Jaish-e-Mohammed is viewed by some as the "deadliest" and "the principal terrorist organization in Jammu and Kashmir".[236] The group was also implicated in the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.[236]

Some major bomb blasts and attacks in India were perpetrated by Islamic militants from Pakistan, e.g. the 2008 Mumbai attacks and 2001 Indian Parliament attack.


Southeast Asia



Most of the terrorist incidents in Thailand are related to the South Thailand insurgency.

The Philippines

The Abu Sayyaf Group, also known as al-Harakat al-Islamiyya, is one of several militant Islamic-separatist groups based in and around the southern islands of the Philippines, in Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (Jolo, Basilan, and Mindanao) where for almost 30 years various Muslim groups have been engaged in an insurgency for a state, independent of the predominantly Christian Philippines. The name of the group is derived from the Arabic ابو, abu ("father of") and sayyaf ("Swordsmith").[237] Since its inception in the early 1990s, the group has carried out bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and extortion in their fight for an independent Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago with the stated goal of creating a pan-Islamic superstate across southeast Asia, spanning from east to west; the island of Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, the island of Borneo (Malaysia, Indonesia), the South China Sea, and the Malay Peninsula (Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar).[238] The U.S. Department of State has branded the group a terrorist entity by adding it to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.[238]


Al-Qaeda's stated aim is the use of jihad to defend and protect Islam against Zionism, Christianity, Hinduism, the secular West, and Muslim governments such as Saudi Arabia, which it sees as insufficiently Islamic and too closely tied to the United States.[239][240][241][242] Formed by Osama bin Laden and Muhammad Atef in the aftermath of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, al-Qaeda called for the use of violence against civilians and military of the United States and any countries that are allied with it.[243]


Wounded people following a bomb attack by Boko Haram in Nigeria, in April 2014

Suicide attacks

An increasingly popular tactic used by terrorists is suicide bombing.[244] This tactic is used against civilians, soldiers, and government officials of the regimes the terrorists oppose. A recent clerical ruling declares terrorism and suicide bombing as forbidden by Islam.[245] However, groups who support its use often refer to such attacks as "martyrdom operations" and the suicide-bombers who commit them as "martyrs" (Arabic: shuhada, plural of "shahid"). The bombers, and their sympathizers often believe that suicide bombers, as martyrs (shaheed) to the cause of jihad against the enemy, will receive the rewards of paradise for their actions.


Islamic terrorism sometimes employs the hijacking of passenger vehicles. The most famous were the "9/11" attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on a single day in 2001, effectively ending the era of aircraft hijacking.

Kidnappings and executions

Along with bombings and hijackings, Islamic terrorists have made extensive use of highly publicised kidnappings and executions, often circulating videos of the acts for use as propaganda. A frequent form of execution by these groups is decapitation, another is shooting. In the 1980s, a series of abductions of American citizens by Hezbollah during the Lebanese Civil War resulted in the 1986 Iran–Contra affair. During the chaos of the Iraq War, more than 200 kidnappings foreign hostages (for various reasons and by various groups, including purely criminal) gained great international notoriety, even as the great majority (thousands) of victims were Iraqis. In 2007, the kidnapping of Alan Johnston by Army of Islam resulted in the British government meeting a Hamas member for the first time.

Islamist militants, including Boko Haram, Hamas, al-Qaeda and the ISIS, have used kidnapping as a method of fundraising, as a means of bargaining for political concessions, and as a way of intimidating potential opponents.[246]

Michael Rubin argued in 2005 that hostage-taking became popular among terrorist groups as a tactic that can hold the attention of a public that had become inured to mass death techniques such as suicide bombing, and that it can garner significant "political and diplomat" payoff. Rubin writes that Islamist kidnappers have the additional, "ideological goals" of using hostages both to "shock the outside world" and to "appeal to their own constituency", and that the public humiliation of hostages is a specific Islamist goal. He also deems hostage taking as an effective technique for cowing a population by making governments appear weak and by inspiring fear of opposing the Islamists. He does not regard kidnapping as an effective recruitment technique.[247]

In his 2007 book, Islamic Terror Abductions in the Middle East,[248] military historian Shaul Shay argued in 2014 that Islamists consider hostage taking as a strategic tool that can effectively gain concessions from targeted governments.[249]

Kidnapping as political tactic

In September 2014, the German Foreign Ministry reported that the Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf had kidnapped two German nationals and was threatening to kill them unless the German government withdraw its support for the war against ISIS and also pay a large ransom.[250] In September 2014 an Islamist militant group kidnapped a French national in Algeria and threatened to kill the hostage unless the government of France withdrew its support for the war against ISIS.[251]

Islamist self-justifications

According to the International Business Times, in October, 2014 the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) released a five-point justification of its right to take non-Muslims hostage, and decapitate, ransom or enslave them.[252] British Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary told The Clarion Project that kidnapping and even beheading hostages is justified by Islam.[253]

Kidnapping as revenue

Nasir al-Wuhayshi leader of the Islamist militant group Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula describes kidnapped hostages as "an easy spoil... which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure."[254]

A 2014 investigation, by journalist Rukmini Maria Callimachi published in The New York Times demonstrated that between 2008 and 2014, Al Qaeda and groups directly affiliated with al-Qaeda took in over US$125 million in from kidnapping, with $66 million of that total paid in 2013 alone. he article showed that from a somewhat haphazard beginning in 2003, kidnapping grew into the group's main fundraising strategy, with targeted, professional kidnapping of civilians from wealthy European countries - principally France, Spain and Switzerland - willing to pay huge ransoms. US and UK nationals are less commonly targeted since these governments have shown an unwillingness to pay ransom.[254]

Boko Haram kidnapped Europeans for the Ransom their governments would pay in the early 2010s.[255][256][257] For example, in the spring of 2013, Boko haram kidnapped and within 2 months released a French family of 7 and 9 other hostages in exchange for a payment by the French government of $3.15 million.[258]

According to Yochi Dreazen writing in Foreign Policy, although ISIS received funding fm Qatar, Kuwait and other Gulf oil states, "traditional criminal techniques like kidnapping", are a key funding source for ISIS.[259] Armin Rosen writing in Business Insider, kidnapping was a "crucial early source" of funds as ISIS expanded rapidly in 2013.[260] n March, upon receiving payment from the government of Spain, ISIS released 2 Spanish hostages working for the newspaper El Mundo, correspondent Javier Espinosa and photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, who had been held since September, 2013.[261] Philip Balboni, CEO of GlobalPost told the press that he had spent "millions" in efforts to ransom journalist James Foley, and an American official told the Associated Press that demand form ISIS was for 100 million ($132.5).[262] In September 2014, following the release of ISIS Beheading videos of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British Prime Minister David Cameron appealed to members of the G7 to abide by their pledges not to pay ransom "in the case of terrorist kidnap."[263]

Holding foreign journalists as hostages is so valuable to ISIS that Rami Jarrah, a Syrian who has acted as go-between in efforts to ransom foreign hostages, told the Wall Street Journal that ISIS had "made it known" to other militant groups that they "would pay" for kidnapped journalists.[264] ISIS has also kidnapped foreign-aid workers and Syrians who work for foreign-funded groups and reconstruction projects in Syria.[264] By mid-2014, ISIS was holding assets valued at US$2 billion,[265] which made it the world's wealthiest Islamist group.[266]

Kidnapping women for sex

According to Islamism expert Jonathan N.C. Hill, in 2014, under the influence of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram had begun kidnapping large numbers of girls and young women for sexual use. The attacks echoed kidnappings of girls and young women for sexual use by Algerian Islamists in the 1990s and early 2000s.[267][268]

Haleh Esfandiari from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has highlighted the abuse of local women by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants after they have captured an area. "They usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try to sell them. The younger girls ... are raped or married off to fighters", she said, adding, "It's based on temporary marriages, and once these fighters have had sex with these young girls, they just pass them on to other fighters."[269] Speaking of Yazidi women captured by ISIS, Nazand Begikhani said "[t]hese women have been treated like cattle... They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They've been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags."[270] The UN confirmed in 2014 that 5,000–7,000 Yazidi women and children had been abducted by ISIL and sold into slavery.[271][272]

Islamist self-justification

According to CNN, the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant "justifies its kidnapping of women as sex slaves citing Islamic theology" in an article entitled, 'The revival (of) slavery before the Hour,' (of Judgement Day), published in the ISIL online magazine, "Dabiq", claimed that Yazidi women can be taken captive and forced to become sex slaves or concubines under Islamic law, "One should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffar -- the infidels -- and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah, or Islamic law."[273]

Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, a Nigerian extremist group, said in an interview "I shall capture people and make them slaves." when claiming responsibility for the 2014 Chibok kidnapping.[274]

Kidnapping as psychological warfare

Boko Haram has been described as using kidnapping as a means of intimidating the civilian population into non-resistance.[267][268]

According to psychologist Irwin Mansdorf, Hamas demonstrated effectiveness of kidnapping as a form of psychological warfare in the 2006 capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit when public pressure forced the government of Israel to release 1027 prisoners, including 280 convicted of terrorism by Israel, in exchange for his release.[275] According to the New York Times, "Hamas has recognized the pull such incidents have over the Israeli psyche and clearly has moved to grab hostages in incidents such as the Death and ransoming of Oron Shaul.[276]

Internet recruiting

In the beginning of the 21st century, emerged a worldwide network of hundreds of web sites that inspire, train, educate and recruit young Muslims to engage in jihad against America and the West, taking less prominent roles in mosques and community centers that are under scrutiny. According to The Washington Post, "Online recruiting has exponentially increased, with Facebook, YouTube and the increasing sophistication of people online".[277]

Selected attacks

The outer skin of World Trade Center Tower Two that remained standing after an Islamist terrorist attack orchestrated by Al-Qaeda

U.S. State Department list

See also


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Further reading