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Islamic terrorism is a form of religious terrorism[1] committed by Muslims to achieve varying political ends in the name of religion. Islamic terrorism has occurred in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and North America. Islamic terrorist organizations have been known to engage in tactics including suicide attacks, hijackings, kidnapping and recruiting new members through the Internet.


Analysis of relevant Quranic verses

Beginning in the 7th century era of Muslim conquests, and continuing on until the 21st century resurgence of Muslim violence on non-Muslims in the name of "Jihad", many have debated whether Islam was fundamentally a religion of peace, of violence, or perhaps of some combination of the two.[2] Within the Quran itself, there appears to be some ambiguity regarding the infliction of injury upon noncombatants. In the Quran's "No-Compulsion verse" it is suggested that "there shall be no compulsion in religion".[3] However, later in the Quran's "Sword verses", Muslims are advised to, "... kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent… (then) let them go on their way… Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the last day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and his messenger (Mohammed) have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth (Islam)".[4] Down through the ages, the apparent ambiguity between such Quranic verses has left room for a multitude of differing interpretations of the final or ultimate meaning of such verses.

Early Islamic positions on terrorism

Islamic scholar, Mark Gabriel holds that certain Quranic verses such as the Quranic "Sword verses" have been instrumental in promulgating various forms of Islamic terrorism since the very beginnings of Islam ca. 622 AD.[5] Some scholars, such as Mark Burgess of the Center for Defense Information, would trace the roots of Islamic terrorism only as far back as the 11th-century Assassins, an order of Isma'ili Shi'ism that targeted political and religious opponents who stood in the way of the Assassins' sectarian ideology. In positing a continuity between Islamic terrorism's medieval and modern manifestations, Burgess identifies a common underlying motive, namely loyalty to a divine imperative, and similar tactics, such as actively seeking out martyrdom.

Development of modern day Islamic terrorism

According to journalist, Robert Dreyfuss, and historian, Barry Cooper, modern day means, methods and expressions of Islamic terrorism were formulated in the 19th century.[6] The Wahhabi movement, an Arabian fundamentalist movement that formed in the 18th century, began to establish a broad following during the 1800s and gradually inspired other fundamentalist movements during the 20th century. Waves of politically motivated terrorist movements in Europe during the 1800s (e.g. the Narodnaya Volya, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation) and early 1900s (e.g. the IRA, the Irgun) served as inspirations and models which would inspire the Islamists over the course of the 20th century and beyond.[7] During the Cold War, the United States and the United Kingdom supported the rise of fundamentalist groups in the Middle East and South Asia as a hedge against Soviet expansion and as a means to weaken anti-Western nationalist movements in some countries.[8]

Mark Burgess posits that the three pivotal events which acted to precipitate much of the Islamic terrorism of the late 20th century were: the Iranian Revolution, the post-Cold War global religious revival, and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. These events, Burgess goes on to argue, were factors that fueled a recourse to religious terrorism.[9][10] American historian Walter Laqueur described the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan as the "global trigger" of Islamic terrorism.[11]

Motivations and Islamic terrorism

The view that Western foreign policy is a motivation for terrorism

Robert Pape, has argued that at least terrorists utilizing suicide attacks – a particularly effective[12] 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."[13] 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.[14] "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,[15] 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.;[16][17][18][19][20] U.S. support for "apostate" police states in Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco, and Kuwait;[21] 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;[22] 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."[23]

Some academics argue that this form of terrorism should be seen as a strategic reaction to American power: that America is an empire, and empires provoked resistance in the form of terrorism. The Russian, Ottoman, and Habsburg Empires, for example, all suffered from terrorist attacks and had terrorist organizations – the Black Hand, Young Bosnia, Narodnaya Volya – spawned from their multiple ethnic groups, religions and national identities.[24] On the other hand, American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq led to free elections in those nations.[citation needed]

The view that Islamic terrorism predates U.S. action and is justified by Quranic teachings

According to others, Islamic terrorism is linked to the practice of divinely sanctioned warfare against apostates.[25][26] Many Muslim groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations argue that references to violence in Muslim sources have been taken out of context.[27][28][29] They argue that these Koranic ayahs are only for self-defense when non-believers endanger Muslim life.

Societal and economic motivations

Scholar Scott Atran, research director and involved in a NATO group studying suicide terrorism, asserts that there is no single root cause of terrorism. The greatest predictors of suicide bombings, Atran concludes, is not religion but group dynamics: "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".[30]

The Muslim world has been afflicted with economic stagnation for many centuries. 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.[31] It has also been estimated that the exports of Finland, a European country of only five million, exceeded those of the entire 260 million-strong Arab world, excluding oil revenue.[citation needed] 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 Caliphate in 1924, with trade networks being disrupted and societies torn apart with the creation of new nation states; prior to this, the Middle East had a diverse and growing economy and more general prosperity.


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.[32] 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.[33]

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."[34]

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."[35]

This profile differs from that found among recent local 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."[36] Daniel Byman, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institute, 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.[37]


One ideology that plays a role in Islamic terrorism is the principle of Jihad, which broadly means struggle. Militants generally use jihad to mean defensive or retaliatory warfare against actors that have allegedly harmed 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."[38] 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 the Prophet.
  • The path to “pure Islam” is only through a literal and strict interpretation of the Qur'an and Hadith, along with implementation of the Prophet’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.[38]

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.[39]

Given their perceived piety, The Times noted the irony when a major[40] investigation by their reporters uncovered a link between Islamic Jihadis and child pornography; a discovery that, according to the London paper, "is expected to improve understanding of the mindsets of both types of criminals and has been hailed as a potentially vital intelligence tool to undermine future terrorist plots.".[41] 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.[42]

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."[43] 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."[43] 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.[43]

Interpretations of the Qur'an and Hadith

The role played by the Qur'an, Islam's sacred text, in opposing or in encouraging attacks on civilians is disputed.

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). Muslims are commanded not to kill women, children, or the aged, not to torture or otherwise ill-treat prisoners, to give fair warning of the opening of hostilities, and to honor agreements. Similarly, the laws of Jihad categorically preclude wanton and indiscriminate slaughter. 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.[46]

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.[47]

" 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.[48][49] 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."[48]

According to Robert Spencer, Muhammad said in one Hadith:[50]

"Allah's Apostle said, "I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror (cast in the hearts of the enemy), and while I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the world were brought to me and put in my hand." Abu Huraira added: Allah's Apostle has left the world and now you, people, are bringing out those treasures (i.e. the Prophet did not benefit by them). Narrated in Abu Huraira.

Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:220, see also Sahih Muslim, 4:1062,Sahih Muslim, 4:1063,Sahih Muslim, 4:1066,Sahih Muslim, 4:1067 and Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:59:512

Furthermore Muhammad said in another Hadith:[51]

The Prophet said, "Who is ready to kill Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf who has really hurt Allah and His Apostle?" Muhammad bin Maslama said, "O Allah's Apostle! Do you like me to kill him?" He replied in the affirmative. So, Muhammad bin Maslama went to him (i.e. Ka'b) and said, "This person (i.e. the Prophet) has put us to task and asked us for charity." Ka'b replied, "By Allah, you will get tired of him." Muhammad said to him, "We have followed him, so we dislike to leave him till we see the end of his affair." Muhammad bin Maslama went on talking to him in this way till he got the chance to kill him. Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah

Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:270, see also Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:59:369,Sahih Muslim, 19:4436

And another Hadith:[52]

The Prophet passed by me at a place called Al-Abwa or Waddan, and was asked whether it was permissible to attack the pagan warriors at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, "They (i.e. women and children) are from them (i.e. pagans)." I also heard the Prophet saying, "The institution of Hima is invalid except for Allah and His Apostle. Narrated As-Sab bin Jaththama

Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:256, see also Sahih Muslim, 19:4321 Sunan Abu Dawood, 38:4390

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.[53]

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.[54] 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.[55] 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.[56]

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 fatwās 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.[57]

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.[58]

Fethullah Gülen, a prominent Turkish Islamic scholar, has claimed that "a real Muslim," who understood Islam in every aspect, could not be a terrorist.[59][60][61] There are many other people with similar points of view[62] such as Karen Armstrong,[63] Prof. Ahmet Akgunduz,[64] Harun Yahya[65] and Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri.[66] 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.[67]

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."[68]

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,'[69] 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.[70]

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”[71] 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.[72] 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.[73] The Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda has a group identity, which includes “shared experiences, attitudes, beliefs, and interests of ingroup members,” and is “described through the achievement of a collective aim for which this group has been created,”[74] 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”[71] This definition can be applied to the U.S.-led war on terror, in which conflict features such as the phenomenon of Anti-Americanism[75] 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[76] and al-Qaeda[77] against Western nations, particularly Israel[78] and the United States[79] 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.[80] 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.[81]

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.[82] 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.[83][84] Subsequently, however, on Osama Bin Laden's death, many Muslims in 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.[85] 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:[86] "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), it’s been authentically established that the prophet (blessings and peace upon him) 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.” 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.” 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."[87]

Numerous fatwās (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 kufr.[88] 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.[89] Iranian Ayatollah Ozma Seyyed Yousef Sanei issued a fatwa (ruling) that suicide attacks against civilians are legitimate only in the context of war.[90] 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 declared suicide attacks and beheadings 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.[91]

Some contemporary scholars who have followed a textual based approach to the study of the Qur'an 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 Qur'an introduced by Farahi and Islahi) the Qur'an does not allow waging war except for against oppression 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 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 waged against persecution Islamic jihad has only two purposes : 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 .
  2. Under a sovereign state.
  3. There are strict ethical limits for jihad which do not again allow fighting for example non-combatants.
  4. Seen in this perspective acts of terrorism including suicide bombing becomes prohibited.

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 – contrary to the prevailing perception in the west that the actions of al-Qaeda enjoy wide support in the Muslim world – more than 90% of respondents condemned the killing of non-combatants on religious and humanitarian grounds.[92]
  • A 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.[93][94]
  • 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.[95] A Daily Telegraph survey[96] 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.[97] A 2008 study, produced by Gallup, found similar results with 38.6% of Muslims questioned believing the 9/11 attacks were justified.[98] Another poll conducted, in 2005 by the Fafo Foundation in the Palestinian Authority, found that 65% of respondents supported the September 11 attacks.[99]
  • 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.[92]
  • 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%.[92]
  • 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.[92]

Examples of organizations and acts

Countries in which Islamist terrorist attacks have occurred between September 11, 2001, and May 2013.[100]

Some prominent Islamic terror groups and incidents include the following:

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."[101]


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.[102]


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.[103]

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.[104] The government blamed Hizb ut-Tahrir,[105] though the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) claimed responsibility.[106]

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.[107]

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.[108] The IJU again claimed responsibility.[106]

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.[109][110]



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 multiethnic group aligned to Riyad-us Saliheen Brigade of Martyrs; hundreds of people died during the storming by Russian forces.[111]

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.[112] In 2011, the U.S. Department of State included the Caucasus Emirate on its list of terrorist organisations.[113]


Hezbollah in Turkey (unrelated to the Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon) is a Kurdish Sunni terrorist group[114] 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.[115] 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 Kurdish Islamist groups active against Turkey, however unlike Kurdish Hizbullah they're yet to be listed as active terrorist organizations in Turkey by Turkish police counter-terrorism.[116]


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, and the 7 July 2005 London bombings, also of public transport, which killed 52 commuters. According to EU Terrorism Report, however, there were almost 500 acts of terrorism across the European Union in 2006, but only one, the foiled suitcase bomb plot in Germany, was related to Islamist terror.[117] In 2009, a Europol report also showed that more than 99% of terrorist attacks in Europe over the last three years were, in fact, carried out by non-Muslims.[118][119][120] In terms of arrests, out of a total of 1,009 arrested terror suspects in 2008, 187 of them were arrested in relation to Islamist terrorism. The report also showed that the majority of Islamist terror suspects were not first generation immigrants, but were rather children of immigrants who no longer identified with the culture of their parents and at the same time felt excluded from Western society, "which still perceives them as foreigners," thus they became "more attracted to the idea of becoming ‘citizens’ of the virtual worldwide Islamic community, removed from territory and national culture."[121]

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.[122] In 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.[123] 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.[124]

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.[125] The 1988 charter of Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel,[126] and remains in effect today. 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.[127] Hamas has been designated as a terrorist group by the European Union, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, 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".[128] During the second intifada (September 2000 through August 2005) 39.9 percent of the suicide attacks were carried out by Hamas.[129] The first Hamas suicide attack was the Mehola Junction bombing in 1993.[130] Although Hamas justifies these attacks as necessary in fighting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, the attacks continue despite the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Hamas controlled territory and Hamas still states its goal to be the elimination of Israel.[131] The wider Hamas movement also serves as a charity organization and provides services to Palestinians.[132]

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.[133] 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 militant 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.[134][135] Its leaders were inspired by the ayatollah Khomeini, and its forces were trained and organized by a contingent of Iranian Revolutionary Guards.[136] 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.[137][138] 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."[137][138] 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.[139] Hezbollah maintains 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,[140] and is able to mobilize demonstrations of hundreds of thousands.[141] Hezbollah alongside with some other groups began the 2006–2008 Lebanese political protests in opposition to the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.[142] 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.[143] A national unity government was formed in 2008, giving Hezbollah and its opposition allies control of 11 of 30 cabinets seats; effectively veto power.[144] Hezbollah receives its financial support from the governments of Iran and Syria, as well as donations from Lebanese people and foreign Shi'as.[145][146] It has also gained significantly in military strength in the 2000s.[147] Despite a June 2008 certification by the United Nations that Israel had withdrawn from all Lebanese territory,[148] 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,[149][150][151] France,[152] Gulf Cooperation Council,[153] and the Netherlands regard Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, while the United Kingdom, the European Union[154] 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[155][156] responsible for blowing up the American embassy[157] and later its annex, as well as the barracks of American and French peacekeeping troops and a dozens of kidnappings of foreigners in Beirut.[158][159] It is also accused of being the recipient of massive aid from Iran,[160] and of serving "Iranian foreign policy calculations and interests,"[158] or serving as a "subcontractor of Iranian initiatives"[159] Hezbollah denies any involvement or dependence on Iran.[161] 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.[162] In 2005, the Lebanese Prime Minister said of Hezbollah, it "is not a militia. It's a resistance."[163]

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.[164] The group's members have been described as militant jihadists,[165] and the group itself has been described as a terrorist movement that draws inspiration from al-Qaeda.[164][165][166] Its stated goal is to reform the Palestinian refugee camps under Islamic sharia law,[167] and its primary targets are the Lebanese authorities, Israel and the United States.[164]

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.[168][169]

North America


According to recent government statements Islamic terrorism is the biggest threat to Canada.[170] The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) reported that terrorist radicalization at home is now the chief preoccupation of Canada's spy agency.[171] The most notorious arrest in Canada's fight on terrorism, was the 2006 Ontario terrorism plot in which 18 Al-Qaeda 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.[172]

United States

Between 1993 and 2001, the major attacks or attempts against US interests stemmed from militant Islamic jihad except for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.[173] In 2001 nearly 3,000 people were killed in the massive September 11 attacks organised by al-Qaeda 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.[174] On April 15, 2013 two Muslim suspected terrorists detonated two pressure cooker bombs in the City of Boston during the Boston Marathon, killing 3 people and injuring an estimated 264 others. As of July 2011, there have been 52 homegrown jihadist plots or attacks in the United States since the September 11 attacks.[175]

South Asia


In Bangladesh the group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh was formed sometime in 1998 and gained prominence in 2001.[176] 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.[177][178]


Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are militant groups seeking accession of Kashmir to Pakistan.[179] The Lashkar leadership describes Indian and Israeli regimes as the main enemies of Islam and Pakistan.[180] 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,[181] India, Australia[182] and Pakistan.[183] Jaish-e-Mohammed was formed in 1994 and has carried out a series of attacks all over India.[184][185] 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".[186] The group was also implicated in the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.[186]


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 Bangsamoro (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").[187] 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).[188] The U.S. Department of State has branded the group a terrorist entity by adding it to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.[188]


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.[189][190][191][192] 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.[193]


Suicide attacks

An increasingly popular tactic used by terrorists is suicide bombing.[194] 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.[195] 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.

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".[196]

Examples of attacks

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

  • 18 April 1983 - 1983 United States embassy bombing 63 killed, 120 wounded.
  • 23 October 1983 - 1983 Beirut barracks bombing 305 killed, 75 wounded.
  • 26 February 1993 – World Trade Center bombing, New York City. Six killed.
  • 13 March 1993 – 1993 Bombay bombings. Mumbai, India. 250 dead, 700 injured.
  • 28 July 1994 – Buenos Aires, Argentina. Vehicle suicide bombing attack against AMIA building, the local Jewish community representation. 85 dead, more than 300 injured.
  • 24 December 1994 – Air France Flight 8969 hijacking in Algiers by three members of Armed Islamic Group of Algeria and another terrorist. Seven killed, including the hijackers.
  • 25 June 1996 – Khobar Towers bombing, 20 killed, 372 wounded.
  • 17 November 1997 – Luxor attack, six terrorists attack tourists at Egypts famous Luxor Ruins. 68 foreign tourists killed.
  • 14 February 1998 – Bombing in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India. 13 bombs explode within a 12 km radius. 46 killed and over 200 injured.
  • 7 August 1998 – 1998 United States embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. 224 dead. 4000+ injured.
  • 4 September 1999 – A series of bombing attacks in several cities of Russia, nearly 300 killed.
  • 12 October 2000 – Attack on the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden.
  • 11 September 2001 – Four planes hijacked and crashed into World Trade Center and The Pentagon by 19 hijackers. 2,977 killed and over 6,000 injured.[197]
  • 13 December 2001 – Suicide attack on Indian parliament in New Delhi by Pakistan-based Islamist terrorist organizations, Jaish-E-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba. Aimed at eliminating the top leadership of India and causing anarchy in the country. 7 dead, 12 injured.
  • 27 March 2002 – Suicide bomb attack on a Passover Seder in a Hotel in Netanya, Israel. 30 dead, 133 injured.
  • 30 March 2002 and 24 November 2002 - Attacks on the Hindu Raghunath temple, India. Total 25 dead.
  • 24 September 2002 – Machine gun attack on Hindu temple in Ahmedabad, India. 31 dead, 86 injured.[198][199]
  • 12 October 2002 – Bombing in Bali nightclub. 202 killed, 300 injured.[200]
  • 16 May 2003 – Casablanca Attacks – Four simultaneous attacks in Casablanca killing 33 civilians (mostly Moroccans) carried by Salafia Jihadia.
  • 11 March 2004 – Multiple bombings on trains near Madrid, Spain. 191 killed, 1460 injured (alleged link to Al-Qaeda).
  • 1 September 2004 - Beslan school hostage crisis, approximately 344 civilians including 186 children killed.[201][202]
  • 2 November 2004 – The murder of Theo van Gogh (film director) by Amsterdam-born jihadist Mohammed Bouyeri.[203]
  • 5 July 2005 - Attack at the Hindu Ram temple at Ayodhya, India; one of the most holy sites of Hinduism. 6 dead.
  • 7 July 2005 – Multiple bombings in London Underground. 53 killed by four suicide bombers. Nearly 700 injured.
  • 23 July 2005 – Bomb attacks at Sharm el-Sheikh, an Egyptian resort city, at least 64 people killed.
  • 29 October 2005 – 29 October 2005 Delhi bombings, India. Over 60 killed and over 180 injured in a series of three attacks in crowded markets and a bus, just 2 days before the Diwali festival.[204]
  • 9 November 2005 – 2005 Amman bombings. a series of coordinated suicide attacks on hotels in Amman, Jordan. Over 60 killed and 115 injured.[205][206] Four attackers including a husband and wife team were involved.[207]
  • 7 March 2006 – 2006 Varanasi bombings, India. A series of attacks in the Sankath Mochan Hanuman temple and Cantonment Railway Station in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi. 28 killed and over 100 injured.[208]
  • 11 July 2006 – 11 July 2006 Mumbai train bombings, Mumbai, India; a series of seven bomb blasts that took place over a period of 11 minutes on the Suburban Railway in Mumbai. 209 killed and over 700 injured.
  • 14 August 2007 – Qahtaniya bombings: Four suicide vehicle bombers massacred nearly 800 members of northern Iraq's Yazidi sect in the deadliest Iraq war's attack to date.
  • 26 July 2008 – 2008 Ahmedabad bombings, India. Islamic terrorists detonate at least 21 explosive devices in the heart of this industrial capital, leaving at least 56 dead and 200 injured. A Muslim group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen claims responsibility. Indian authorities believe that extremists with ties to Pakistan and/or Bangladesh are likely responsible and are intent on inciting communal violence.[209] Investigation by Indian police led to the eventual arrest of a number of terrorists suspected of carrying out the blasts, most of whom belong to a well-known terrorist group, the Students Islamic Movement of India.[210]
  • 13 September 2008 – Bombing series in Delhi, India. Pakistani extremist groups plant bombs at several places including India Gate, out of which the ones at Karol Bagh, Connaught Place and Greater Kailash explode leaving around 30 people dead and 130 injured, followed by another attack two weeks later at the congested Mehrauli area, leaving 3 people dead.
  • 26 November 2008 – Muslim extremists kill at least 174 people and wound numerous others in a series of coordinated attacks on India's largest city and financial capital, Mumbai. The government of India blamed Pakistan based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and stated that the terrorists killed/caught were citizens of Pakistan, a claim which the Pakistani government has refused. Ajmal Kasab, one of the terrorists, was caught alive.[211][212]
  • 25 October 2009. Baghdad, Iraq. During a terrorist attack, two bomber vehicles detonated in the Green Zone, killing at least 155 people and injuring 520.
  • 28 October 2009 – Peshawar, Pakistan. A car bomb is detonated in a woman exclusive shopping district, and over 110 killed and over 200 injured.
  • 3 December 2009 – Mogadishu, Somalia. A male suicide bomber disguised as a woman detonates in a hotel meeting hall. The hotel was hosting a graduation ceremony for local medical students when the blast went off, killing four government ministers as well as other civilians.[213]
  • 1 January 2010 – Lakki Marwat, Pakistan. A suicide car bomber drove his explosive-laden vehicle into a volleyball pitch as people gathered to watch a match killing more than 100 people.[214]
  • 1 May 2010 - New York, New York, USA. Faisal Shahzad, an Islamic Pakistani American who received U.S. citizenship in December 2009, attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square working with the Pakistani Taliban or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.
  • 13 May 2011 - Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed attacks on two mosques simultaneously belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, killing nearly 100 and injuring many others.[215]
  • 13 July 2011 - Three bombs exploded at different locations in Mumbai, perpetrated by Indian Mujahideen.
  • 15 April 2013 - Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev set off two pressure cooker bombs at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon and killed three people.
  • 22 May 2013 - 2 Nigerian men attack and kill British Soldier, Lee Rigby in Woolwich, London, UK.[216]
  • 22 September 2013 - 61 civilians, 6 Kenyan soldiers, and 5 attackers die in the Westgate shopping mall attack.

U.S. State Department list

See also

  • Arab-Israeli conflict
  • Christian Terrorism
  • Criticism of Islamism
  • History of terrorism
  • Homegrown terrorism
  • Islam: What the West Needs to Know
  • Islamism
  • Jewish religious terrorism
  • Jihad
  • Religion and peacebuilding
  • Religious war


  1. Falk, Avner (2008). Islamic terror : conscious and unconscious motives. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security International. pp. 4. ISBN 978-0-313-35764-0. 
  2. Lewis, Bernard (1988). The Political Language of Islam. University of Chicago Press. p. 72. ISBN 0226476928.  Cf. Watt, William M. (1976). "Islamic Conceptions of the Holy War". In Murphy, Thomas P.. The Holy War. Ohio State University Press. p. 143. ISBN 978-0814202456. 
  3. Surah 2:256, the "No-Compulsion verse"
  4. Surahs 9:5 - 9:29, the "Sword verses"
  5. Islam and Terrorism by Mark A. Gabriel
  6. Dreyfuss (2006), p. 2
    Cooper (2008), p.272
  7. Cooper (2008), p.272
  8. Dreyfuss (2006), p. 1-4
  9. Burgess, Mark (20 May 2004). "Explaining Religious Terrorism Part 1". Center for Defense Information. Archived from the original on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 3 August 2011. "This continuity in terrorist motivations is particularly salient with regard to religion." 
  10. Burgess, Mark (2 July 2003). "A Brief History of Terrorism". Center for Defense Information. Archived from the original on 27 May 2005. Retrieved 3 August 2011. "While it is impossible to definitively ascertain when it was first used, that which we today call terrorism traces its roots back at least some 2,000 years. Moreover, today’s terrorism has, in some respects come full circle, with many of its contemporary practitioners motivated by religious convictions – something which drove many of their earliest predecessors." 
  11. Laqueur, edited by Walter (2004). Voices of terror : manifestos, writings, and manuals of Al-Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorists from around the world and throughout the ages. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks. pp. 440. ISBN 978-1-59429-035-0. 
  12. For example, according to Pape, from 1980 to 2003 suicide attacks amounted to only 3% of all terrorist attacks, but accounted for 48% of total deaths due to terrorism – this excluding 9/11 attacks, from Pape, Dying to Win, (2005), p.28
  13. McConnell, Scott (2005). "The Logic of Suicide Terrorism". The American Conservative magazine. The American Conservative. Retrieved June 25, 2006. 
  14. "Suicide Terrorism in the Middle East: Origins and Response". Retrieved April 25, 2010. 
  15. Scheuer (2004), p. 9
    "The focused and lethal threat posed to U.S. national security arises not from Muslims being offended by what America is, but rather from their plausible perception that the things they most love and value – God, Islam, their brethren, and Muslim lands – are being attacked by America."
  16. "US Support for Israel was the cause of 9/11: Interviews: Nabila Harb". Retrieved March 2, 2011. 
  17. "US Support for Israel prompted 9/11". AFP. 14 September 2009. 
  18. Mearsheimer, John J. and Walt, Stephen (2007). The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-17772-4. 
  19. "Six shot, one killed at Seattle Jewish federation". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 27 July 2006. 
  20. Purdy, Matthew (25 February 1997). "The Gunman Premeditated The Attack, Officials Say". The New York Times. 
  21. "Frontline: Al Qaeda's New Front: Interviews: Michael Scheuer". Retrieved March 8, 2008. "Bin Laden has had success because he's focused on a limited number of U.S. foreign policies in the Muslim world, policies that are visible and are experienced by Muslims on a daily basis: our unqualified support for Israel; our ability to keep oil prices at a level that is more or less acceptable to Western consumers. Probably the most damaging of all is our 30-year support for police states across the Islamic world: the Al Sauds and the Egyptians under [Hosni] Mubarak and his predecessors; the Algerians; the Moroccans; the Kuwaitis. They're all police states." 
  22. Scheuer (2004), pp. 11-13
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Further reading

  • Amir, Taheri (1987). Holy Terror: Inside the World of Islamic Terrorism. Adler & Adler. ISBN 0-917561-45-7. 
  • Atran, Scott (2010). Talking to the Enemy. Ecco Press / HarperCollins, USA; Allen Lane / Penguin, UK. ISBN 978-0-06-134490-9. 
  • Ayaan, Hirsi Ali (2007). Infidel. Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-9503-X. 
  • Bostom, Andrew (2005). The Legacy of Jihad. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-59102-307-6. 
  • Dennis, Anthony J. (1996). The Rise of the Islamic Empire and the Threat to the West. Wyndham Hall Press, Ohio, USA. ISBN 1-55605-268-5. 
  • Dennis, Anthony J. (2002). Osama Bin Laden: A Psychological and Political Portrait. Wyndham Hall Press, Ohio, USA. ISBN 1-55605-341-X. 
  • Durie, Mark (2010). The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom. Deror Books. ISBN 978-0-9807223-0-7. 
  • Esposito, John L. (1995). The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-19-510298-7. 
  • Esposito, John L. (2003). Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-19-516886-0. 
  • Falk, Avner. (2008). Islamic Terror: Conscious and Unconscious Motives. Westport, Connecticut, Praeger Security International. ISBN 978-0-313-35764-0.
  • Fregosi, Paul (1998). Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-247-1. 
  • Gabriel, Brigitte. (2006). Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-35837-7.
  • Halliday, Fred (2003). Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics of the Middle East. I.B. Tauris, New York. ISBN 978-1-86064-868-7. 
  • Ibrahim, Raymond (2007). The Al Qaeda Reader. Broadway, USA. ISBN 978-0-7679-2262-3. 
  • Kepel, Gilles. Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam.
  • Kepel, Gilles. The War for Muslim Minds.
  • Spencer, Robert (2003). Onward Muslim Soldiers. Regnery Publishing, USA. ISBN 978-0-89526-100-7. 
  • Spencer, Robert (2005). The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And the Crusades). Regnery Publishing, USA. ISBN 978-0-89526-013-0. 
  • Spencer, Robert (2006). The Truth About Muhammad. Regnery Publishing, USA. ISBN 978-1-59698-028-0. 
  • Warraq, Ibn (1995). Why I Am Not a Muslim. Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-984-4. 

External links

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