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Mujahideen (Arabic language: مجاهدmuǧāhid, nominative plural مجاهدون muǧāhidūn, oblique plural مجاهدين muǧāhidīn "strugglers" or "people doing jihad") is a term that Muslims use to describe those they see as Muslims who struggle in the path of Allah.[1][2] The word is from the same Arabic triliteral root as jihad ("struggle"). In recent years, Mujahideen has been most closely associated by the west with radical Islam, encompassing several militant groups and struggles.


Origin of the concept

The beginnings of Jihad are traced back to the words and actions of Mohammad and the Qur'an.[3] The people who helped Mohammad were referred to as Ansars ("helpers") and Muhajirs ("immigrants" who left due to years of persecution in Makkah, settling in Madinah).[4] Then the Muhajireen's property was confiscated in Makkah, so Mohammed called upon the Muslims to participate in Jihad against the Quraysh.

The earliest known expeditions they participated in were the Caravan raids, where they were given the task of intercepting Quraysh caravans. They also participated in other battles, such as the Battle of Badr and Uhud.[5][6]

The term Mujahideen was first used by the West to describe the mountainous sect of hillmen in Afghanistan who fought against British control (although initially to the British they were known as Sitana Fanatics). It began in 1829 when a religious man, Sayyid Ahmed Shah Brelwi, came back to the village of Sitana from a pilgrimage to Mecca and began preaching war against the infidels in the area defining the Northwest border of British India. Although he died in battle, the sect he had created survived and the Mujahideen gained more power and prominence. During the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the Mujahideen were said to accept any fleeing Sepoys and recruit them into their ranks. As time went by the sect grew ever larger until it was raiding and controlling larger areas in Afghanistan.[7]

Middle Ages

Early Modern Period

19th century

Modern Jihadism

The modern phenomenon of jihadism that presents jihad (offensive or defensive) as the casus belli for insurgencies, guerilla warfare and international terrorism, dates back to the 1960s and draws on early-to-mid-20th century Islamist doctrines such as Qutbism.


Mujahideen fighters passing around the Durand Line border in 1985

The best-known mujahideen were the various loosely aligned Afghan opposition groups, which initially rebelled against the government of the pro-Soviet Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) during the late 1970s. At the DRA's request, the Soviet Union brought forces into the country to aid the government. The mujahideen fought against Soviet and DRA troops during the Soviet War in Afghanistan and were supported by United States' assistance. After the Soviet Union pulled out of the conflict in the late 1980s, the mujahideen fought each other for control in the subsequent Afghan Civil War.[36]

Afghanistan's resistance movement was born in chaos and, at first, virtually all of its war was waged locally by regional warlords. As warfare became more sophisticated, outside support and regional coordination grew. The basic units of mujahideen organization and action continued to reflect the highly decentralized nature of Afghan society and strong loci of competing mujahideen and tribal groups, particularly in isolated areas among the mountains.[37] Eventually, the seven main mujahideen parties allied as the political bloc called Islamic Unity of Afghanistan Mujahideen.

Many Muslims from other countries assisted the various mujahideen groups in Afghanistan. Some groups of these veterans have been significant factors in more recent conflicts in and around the Muslim world. Osama bin Laden, originally from a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia, was a prominent organizer and financier of an all-Arab Islamist group of foreign volunteers; his Maktab al-Khadamat funnelled money, arms, and Muslim fighters from around the Muslim world into Afghanistan, with the assistance and support of the Saudi and Pakistani governments.[38] These foreign fighters became known as "Afghan Arabs" and their efforts were coordinated by Abdullah Yusuf Azzam.

Mujahideen forces caused serious casualties to the Soviet forces, and made the war very costly for the Soviet Union. In 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan. Many districts and cities then fell to the mujahideen; in 1992 the DRA's last president, Mohammad Najibullah, was overthrown.

However, the mujahideen did not establish a united government, and many of the larger mujahideen groups began to fight each other over power in Kabul. After several years of devastating fighting, a village mullah named Mohammed Omar organized a new armed movement with the backing of Pakistan. This movement became known as the Taliban ("students" in Pashto), referring to the Saudi-backed religious schools known for producing extremism. Veteran mujahideen were confronted by this radical splinter group in 1996.


A sizable number of mujahideen were present and concentrated in the province of Arakan, Burma.[39] There were many Muslim Rebels in Rakhine State of Burma in 1949—a year after achieving Independence. Mir Kashem was the leader of the group known as "Mujahids", a group that consisted primarily of immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. This particular movement was crushed by the Burmese Army in 1950s. Mir Kashem himself was assassinated in Cox's Bazar. This movement under Kashem collapsed after his death and his followers surrendered. When asked about their race, they called themselves as "Rohingyas".[40] They were much more active before the 1962 coup d'etat by General Ne Win. Ne Win carried out some military operations targeting them over a period of two decades. The prominent one was "Operation King Dragon" which took place in 1978; as a result, many Muslims in the region fled to neighboring Bangladesh as refugees. Nevertheless, the Burmese mujahideen remained active within the remote areas of Arakan.[41] Their associations with Bangladeshi mujahideen were significant but they have extended their networks to the international level and countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia, et al., during the recent years.[citation needed] They collect donations, and receive religious military training outside of Burma.[42]

Bosnia and Herzegovina

During the Bosnian war 1992-1995, some foreign Muslims came to Bosnia as mujahideen. The war had been depicted in the international press as an attack on Muslims. Serb forces attacked Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) communities indiscriminately, and committed substantial atrocities against the Bosniak population (see Bosnian Genocide, Srebrenica Massacre, Serbian War Crimes in the Yugoslav Wars). This moved Muslims who shared mujahideen beliefs to come to the aid of oppressed fellow Muslims, and also presented an opportunity to strike at "infidels". The number of foreign Muslim volunteers in Bosnia was estimated at about 4,000 in contemporary newspaper reports.[43] Later research estimated about 400 foreign volunteers.[44] They came from places such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and the Palestinian Territories; to quote the summary of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia judgment:[45]

The evidence shows that foreign volunteers arrived in central Bosnia in the second half of 1992 with the aim of helping Muslims against the Serbian aggressors. Mostly they came from North Africa, the Near East and the Middle East. The foreign volunteers differed considerably from the local population, not only because of their physical appearance and the language they spoke, but also because of their fighting methods. The various foreign, Muslim volunteers were primarily organized into an umbrella detachment of the 7th Muslim Brigade, which was a brigade of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, based in Zenica. This independent subdivision colloquially known as El-Mudžahid, was composed exclusively of foreign nationals and not Bosnians (whereas the 7th Muslim Brigade was entirely made up of native Bosniaks) and consisted of somewhere between 300 to 1,500 volunteers. Enver Hadžihasanović, Lieutenant Colonel of the Bosnian Army's 3rd Corps, appointed Mahmut Karalić (Commandant), Asim Koričić (Chief of Staff) and Amir Kubura (Assistant Chief for Operational and Curricula) to lead the group.

Some of the mujahideen funnelled arms and money into the country which Bosnia was in dire need of due to a United Nations-sanctioned arms embargo restricting the importation of weapons into all of the republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. However, many of the mujahideen were extremely devout Muslims of the strict Salafi sect, which contrasted sharply with the widely renowned secular society and liberal attitudes Bosnian Muslims harbored. This led to friction between the mujahideen and the Bosniaks. Furthermore, some mujahideen wanted to fight a war of extermination, or use Bosniak territory as a base for terrorist operations elsewhere.[citation needed] This was contrary to the war goals of the Bosnian government, who was primarily oriented towards fighting for national independence.

Foreign volunteers in Bosnia have been variously accused of committing war crimes during the conflict. However, the ICTY has not ever issued indictments against mujahideen fighters. Instead, the ICTY indicted some Bosnian Army commanders on the basis of superior criminal responsibility. The ICTY acquitted Amir Kubura and Enver Hadžihasanović of the Bosnian 3rd Corps of all charges related to the incidents involving mujahideen. Furthermore, the Appeals Chamber noted that the relationship between the 3rd Corps and the El Mujahedin detachment was not one of subordination but was instead close to overt hostility since the only way to control the detachment was to attack them as if they were a distinct enemy force.[46]

The ICTY Trial Chamber convicted Rasim Delic, the former chief of the Bosnian Army General Staff. The ICTY found that Delic had effective control over the El Mujahid Detachment. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment for failure to prevent or punish the cruel treatment of twelve captured Serb soldiers by the Mujahideen. Delic remained in the Detention Unit while appellate proceedings continued.[47]

Some individual members of the Bosnian Mujahideen, gained particular prominence within Bosnia as well as international attention from various foreign governments, such as Abdelkader Mokhtari, Fateh Kamel, and Karim Said Atmani, all of whom were North African volunteers with well established links to Islamic Fundamentalist groups before and after the Bosnian War.

India and Pakistan

An outfit calling itself the Indian Mujahideen came to light in 2008 with multiple large scale terror attacks. On November 26, 2008, a group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for a string of attacks across Mumbai. The Weekly Standard claimed, "Indian intelligence believes the Indian Mujahideen is a front group created by Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami to confuse investigators and cover the tracks of the Students Islamic Movement of India, or SIMI, a radical Islamist movement with aim to establish Islamic rule over India.[48] In the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Kashmiri Muslim separatists opposing Indian rule are often known as mujahideen.

Several different militant groups have since taken root in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. Most noticeable of these groups are Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Hizbul Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM).[49] A 1996 report by Human Rights Watch estimated the number of active mujahideen at 3,200.[50]

The members of the Salafi movement (within Sunni Islam) in the south Indian state of Kerala is known as "Mujahids"


While more than one group in Iran have called themselves mujahideen,[which?] the most famous is the People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI), currently an Iraq-based Islamic Socialist militant organization that advocates the overthrow of Iran's current government. The group also took part in the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iraq-Iran War (on the side of Iraqis), and the Iraqi internal conflicts.

Another mujahideen was the Mujahedin-e Islam, an Islamic party led by Ayatollah Abol-Ghasem Kashani.[51] It was a component of the National Front (Iran) during the time of Mohammed Mosaddeq's oil nationalization, but broke away from Mosaddeq over his allegedly unIslamic policies.[52]


The term mujahideen is sometimes applied to fighters who joined the insurgency after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Some groups also use the word mujahideen in their names, like Mujahideen Shura Council and Mujahideen Army.

Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq as part of the George W. Bush administration's post 9/11 foreign policy, many foreign Mujahideen joined several Sunni militant groups resisting the U.S. occupation of Iraq. A considerable part of the insurgents did not come from Iraq but instead from many other Arab countries, notably Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Among these recruits was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian national who would go on to assume the leadership of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

North Caucasus

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The term mujahideen has often been used to refer to all separatist fighters in the case of the First and Second Chechen Wars. However, in this article, mujahideen is used to refer to the foreign, non-Caucasian fighters who joined the separatists’ cause for the sake of Jihad. They are often called Ansaar (helpers) in related literature dealing with this conflict to prevent confusion with the native fighters.

Foreign mujahideen have played a part in both Chechen wars. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent Chechen declaration of independence, foreign fighters began entering the region and associating themselves with local rebels (most notably Shamil Basayev). Many of the foreign fighters were veterans of the Soviet-Afghan war. The mujahideen also made a significant financial contribution to the separatists’ cause; with their access to the immense wealth of Salafist charities like al-Haramein, they soon became an invaluable source of funds for the Chechen resistance, which had few resources of its own.

Most of the mujahideen decided to remain in Chechnya after the withdrawal of Russian forces. In 1999, foreign fighters played an important role in the ill-fated Chechen incursion into Dagestan, where they suffered a decisive defeat and were forced to retreat back into Chechnya. The incursion provided the new Russian government with a pretext for intervention. Russian ground forces invaded Chechnya again in December 1999.

The mujahideen were deemed responsible for the decapitation of six young Russian conscripts caught in Dagestan during a rebel incursion. The beheading was depicted in a video that was posted online. The six Russian conscripts were caught behind enemy lines after the small and unprepared Russian unit retreated during a rebel advance onto Dagestan. The mujahideen were then killed by Russian special forces during a gunfight a short time later.

The separatists were less successful in the Second Chechen War. The Chechens were unable to hold their ground against better prepared and more determined Russian forces. Russian officials claimed that the separatists had been defeated as early as 2002. The Russians also succeeded in killing the most prominent mujahideen commanders, most notably Ibn al-Khattab and Abu al-Walid.

Although the region has since been far from stable, separatist activity has decreased, though some foreign fighters remain active in Chechnya. In the last months of 2007, the influence of foreign fighters became apparent again when Dokka Umarov proclaimed the Caucasus Emirate being fought for by the Caucasian Mujahadeen, a pan-Caucasian Islamic state of which Chechnya was to be a province. This move caused a rift in the resistance movement between those supporting the Emirate and those who were in favour of preserving the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.


According to the Serbian and other European press[which?] several hundred to a few thousand Mujahideen fighters from the Middle East and other parts of the world later joined the Kosovo Liberation Army to fight against Serbian forces in the Kosovo war 1997–1999.[citation needed] Allegedly some of them formed their own units with Albanian leaders who spoke Arabic fluently.[citation needed] The greatest involvement was in the conflicts along the border with Albania as well as in the Battle of Košare.[citation needed] After the war most of the foreign volunteers went back to their home lands, while some of them remained in Kosovo where they became citizens.[53][54][55][56][57]

In April 2000, official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug published a story from Priština, Kosovo about Osama bin Laden and Abu Hassan being in Kosovo in order to "carry out terrorist acts in Kosovo", and the story was carried by the AFP wire service.[58]

The Kosovo Liberation Army included in its ranks foreign volunteers from Belgium, the UK, Germany, the US and France.[59][60]


Boko Haram has been active in Nigeria since it was founded in 2001. It existed in other forms before 2001. Although it initially limited its operations to northeast Nigeria, it has since expanded to other parts of Nigeria, and to Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Boko Haram seeks to implement sharia law across Nigeria.


Between the acquisition of the Philippines after the Spanish American War and a treaty with Sultan Jamal ul-Kiram II the Sultan of Sulu in 1915, the United States and the government of the Philippines were involved in a period known as the Moro Rebellion. During this period, religious rebels supported by the Sultan fought for removal of the Christian-dominated Philippine government from the Sulu Archipelago and Mindanao and for the independence of the Sultanate of Sulu. During this period there were volunteers who were willing to commit themselves to hand-to-hand combat and probable death. In Spanish, these religious rebels were known as juramentados, or oath-takers, and have been compared with Mujahideen.

Abu Sayyaf is an Islamic separatist group in the southern Philippines. The group is known for its kidnappings of Western nationals and Filipinos, for which it has received several large ransom payments. Some Abu Sayyaf members have studied or worked in Saudi Arabia and developed relations with the mujahideen members while fighting and training in the war against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.[61] The members of Abu Sayyaf proclaimed themselves as mujahideen but are not supported by many people in the Philippines including its Muslim clerics. Abu Sayyaf is thought to have around 400 members.


In July 2006, a Web-posted message purportedly written by Osama bin Laden urged Somalis to build an Islamic state in the country and warned western states that his al-Qaeda network would fight against them if they intervened there.[62] Foreign fighters began to arrive, though there were official denials of the presence of mujahideen in the country. Even so, the threat of jihad was made openly and repeatedly in the months preceding the Battle of Baidoa.[63] On December 23, 2006, Islamists, for the first time, called upon international fighters to join their cause.[64] The term mujahideen is now openly used by the post-ICU resistance against the Ethiopians and the TFG.

Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen is said to have non-Somali foreigners in its ranks, particularly among its leadership.[65] Fighters from the Persian Gulf and international jihadists were called to join the holy war against the Somali government and its Ethiopian allies. Though Somali Islamists did not use suicide bombing tactics before, the foreign elements of al-Shabaab are blamed for several suicide bombings.[66][67] A 2006 UN report stated that Iran, Libya, Egypt and other countries in the Persian Gulf region were the main backers of the Islamist extremists. Egypt has a longstanding policy of securing the Nile River flow by destabilizing Ethiopia.[68][69] Similarly, recent media reports said that Egyptian and Arab jihadists were the core members of Al-Shabaab, and were training Somalis in sophisticated weaponry and suicide bombing techniques.[70] In early 2012, hundreds of fighters from the Middle-East and Pakistan left Somalia, apparently to help defend Al-Qaeda territory in Yemen, where a new president is likely to use his popular mandate and American support to mount an offensive against Al-Qaeda.


Various Islamic groups, often referred to as mujahideen and jihadists, have participated in the Syrian civil war. Alawites, the sect to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs, are considered to be heretics in some Sunni Muslim circles. In this sense, Al-Qaeda and affiliates have been anti-Assad.

American officials believe that Al-Qaeda in Iraq has conducted bomb attacks against Syrian government forces,[71] and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri condemned Assad.[72] Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that al-Qaeda in Iraq members have gone to Syria, where the militants previously received support and weapons from the Syrian government in order to destabilize the US occupation of Iraq.[73] On 23 April, one of the leaders of Fatah al-Islam, Abdel Ghani Jawhar, was killed during the Battle of Al-Qusayr, after he blew himself up while making a bomb.[74] A member of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in Lebanon admitted that his group had sent fighters to Syria, while a group thought linked to al-Qaeda and calling itself the al-Nusra Front claimed for a suicide bomb attack on 6 January 2012 in the central Damascus neighbourhood of al-Midan killed 26 people, most of whom were civilians,[75] as well as for truck bombs that killed 55 people and injured 370. Jihadist leaders and intelligence sources said foreign fighters had begun to enter Syria only in February 2012.[76] In May 2012, Syria's U.N. envoy Bashar Ja'afari declared that dozens of foreign fighters from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Britain, France elsewhere had been captured or killed, and urged Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to stop "their sponsorship of the armed rebellion".[77][78] Jihadist leaders and intelligence sources said foreign fighters had begun to enter Syria only in February 2012.[76] In June, it was reported that hundreds of foreign fighters, many linked to al-Qaeda, had gone to Syria to fight against Assad.[79] In July, Iraq's foreign minister again warned that members of al-Qaeda in Iraq were seeking refuge in Syria and moving there to fight.[80] When asked if the United States would arm the opposition, Hillary Clinton expressed fears that such weapons could fall into the hands of al-Qaeda or Hamas.[81]

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