ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and the Taliban. And let’s not forget the entire government of Iran. These are just a smattering of the jihadist groups and governments that are intent on destroying Western Civilization and the freedoms we cherish. In some cases, these groups denounce and even fight one another!
Here’s my attempt to understand the various groups:
1. Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Al-Qaeda (Arabic for “the cell”) was of course created by the infamous Osama bin Laden as a reaction to the U.S.-led coalition that defended Saudi Arabia and ejected Iraq from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War. Al-Qaeda views the U.S. and its allies in Israel and western Europe as the ultimate enemy. They view the global jihad as more of a long, drawn-out affair, and focus more on guerrilla and terrorist attacks to cause instability in the world, gain converts, and eventually bring about a Muslim-dominated world in which the world will bow in submission to Sharia (Islamic law).
ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) is also known as ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and IS (the Islamic State). It is known derisively by its enemies as “Daesh.” “Daesh” is an Arabic acronym meaning either “sower of discord” or “one who tramples.” Either way, the jihadists in ISIS consider it a grave insult to call them by this name.
At any rate, ISIS was formed when discontented terrorists from the al-Qaeda cell in Iraq thought that their bosses in al-Qaeda were too slow in bringing about a Sharia-loving paradise on earth. Al-Qaeda leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri believed that the most his terrorists could do was maybe establish an “emirate” in the Middle East. That is, bring about an Islamic state that could only govern and speak for a few within that domain. However, the new ISIS organization, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, wanted a full-blown caliphate that would speak for ALL Muslims … and they wanted it now.
So they went about making it. In 2014, Mr. Baghdadi basically declared the new caliphate in Mosul, and ordered all Muslims to rally to him. Of course, Dr. Zawahiri wasn’t happy with that, and told all Muslims to ignore him. Although both groups are bloodthirsty Sunni jihadist groups that follow a strict Salafi (also now known as “Wahhabi”) view of Sharia, hate the U.S. and want the extermination of Israel, and want Sharia for everyone, they are actually fighting each other in Syria right now. The al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria that is attacking ISIS is called “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham” or the “al Nusra Front.” Both hate the pro-Russian, Shiite government of Bashar al-Assad and fight for its downfall (after they kill off their competitor, of course).
It should be pointed out that al-Qaeda and ISIS (as well as ALL of the Islamic terror groups in this article) despise all Muslim governments that currently call themselves U.S. allies (such as those in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, the UAE, Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt).
“Hamas” is an Arabic acronym meaning “Islamic Resistance Movement.” It also literally means “zeal” in Arabic. (Strangely enough, “hamas” in Hebrew means “violence” — as translated into English in Genesis 6:11, 13.) Hamas is also a jihadist organization similar to ISIS and al Qaeda in that it has the long-term, ultimate goal of establishing Sharia over the earth. However, Hamas seems to be confined largely to a Sunni Palestinian resistance movement centered in Gaza. Hamas was allied with the Palestinian Authority in Samaria (they refer to it as “the West Bank”), but has since splintered off from that governing body.
Hamas is elected by the Arabs living in Gaza; ISIS and al-Qaeda are not elected by their people. Hamas wants to exterminate Israel, but is not concerned about creating a caliphate right now. Nor does it seem concerned about expanding its control beyond Gaza or Israel (for now). This is the terrorist organization that has (along with Hezbollah in the north of Israel) fired thousands of rockets into Israel. Fortunately, Israel’s missile defense shield (known as the “Iron Dome”) has successfully thwarted most of these rocket attacks.
Another difference between Hamas and al-Qaeda/ISIS is that Hamas is not actively attacking the United States or Europe (yet). And finally, it is interesting that some 4,000 Christians (mostly Roman Catholic and Orthodox, but also a smattering of Protestants) live peaceably under Hamas rule. Of course, that is so long as they agree with Hamas rule.
3. The Taliban.
“Taliban” is a Pashtun word meaning “students.” The Taliban see themselves as students of the Quran and faithful followers of Muhammed. As such, they too subscribe to a strict Salafist interpretation of Sharia. The Taliban’s origins came during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989). During that time many of their resistance fighters were armed and trained by the U.S. to fight the Soviets. Of course, once the Soviets left, the Taliban began fighting other Afghan resistance movements similarly armed and trained by the U.S. and its allies. Under the leadership of their spiritual founder, “Mullah Omar,” the Taliban won control of most of Afghanistan by the year 2000.
Similar to ISIS, these Sunni Muslims began to implement Sharia, even destroying priceless relics of pre-Islamic civilizations. (In March of 2001 they completely blew up the Buddhist statues of Bamiyan, in much the same way ISIS has blown up priceless Roman ruins in Palmyra, Syria.)
The Taliban is mainly a Pashtun/Afghan organization that is more nationalistic than global. Their goals (for now) seem mainly to eject the U.S./NATO forces from Afghanistan and depose the pro-U.S. government. They basically want to be left alone in Afghanistan to murder, enslave, reject all forms of Western culture (particularly Western education), and grow opium. They currently have many allies in the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies, and collude with other nations that dislike the U.S. (such as Iran and China). Recently ISIS has tried to move into Afghanistan, and because the Taliban has a cozy relationship with al-Qaeda, it has been quite resistant to ISIS. (Seems like mafia “turf wars” to me.)
4. Boko Haram.
In the West African Hausa language, this phrase literally means “Fake forbidden.” “Boko” means “fake” but is usually a pejorative term meaning “western education” or “western values.” “Haram” is Arabic for “forbidden.” So, the title for this terrorist group is “western education/values is forbidden.” Boko Haram officially began in the year 2002 but its violent campaign started in 2009, and it operates in Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. Their first leader was Abubakr Shekau, but their current leader is Abu Musab al-Barnawi. They were at first an al-Qaeda affiliate, but in March of 2015 pledged their allegiance to ISIS.
This is the group that has murdered across West Africa, displacing some 2.3 million people. This is the group that captured some 200 Christian school girls and forced them into sexual slavery. They too follow the strict Salafist interpretation of Sharia and are determined to impose it upon all of Africa. Although many West African governments have pledged their support to wipe out Boko Haram, it is unclear yet which side has the upper hand in this war.
Based out of Somalia, the name of this terror group basically means “the Youth” or “the Youngsters.” The full name in English is “Movement of the Striving Youth.” Formed in 2006, this is yet another Sunni Muslim group that follows a Salafist understanding of Sharia. Their leader was Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, until he was killed September 1st, 2014, in a drone strike in southern Somalia. Currently Ahmed Umar leads them. Many others in their leadership have been killed by drone strikes and commando raids. Initially successful, al-Shabaab has been greatly weakened recently.
Some of the setbacks are due to desertions in the ranks. There is considerable internecine friction between clans and others who want to be the leader. In 2012, al-Shabaab declared itself allied with al-Qaeda, with the goal of conquering East Africa (mostly Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania) and eventually attacking the United States. Fortunately, the Somali National Army, allied with Kenyan forces, has done much to drive al-Shabaab out of the major cities and into the country where currently government forces are squeezing them into smaller pockets of resistance.
Do not be fooled, however. Al-Shabaab, like other terror organizations, has shown great resilience. They currently recruit not only from Somalia, but also from Yemen, Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, various western European countries, and even the United States.
One of the most famous foreign fighters in the organization is Samantha Lewthwaite, a British citizen. Dubbed “the White Widow,” she has reportedly been involved in the deaths of more than 400 people. In 2005, her husband Germaine Lindsay blew himself up in the London subway, killing some 26 people. In 2012, she tossed a grenade in a bar in Mombasa, Tanzania, killing three and maiming others. She was also implicated in the massacre at Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. She is still on the loose.
This one is just a tad different, because Hezbollah is a Shiite terror group located in southern Lebanon. The name means “Party of Allah.” Originally formed in 1985, Hezbollah follows the interpretation of Islamic law as given by the infamous Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran. Since they are Shiite, and closely allied with the governments of Syria and Iran, they are sometimes referred to as the “forward deployed army of Iran.”
They share with the Sunnis a visceral hatred of Israel and the United States, and have pledged to exterminate the entire nation of Israel. As followers of the Shiite take on eschatology, they believe that an all-out apocalyptic war against Israel (and the U.S.) will eventually bring about the return of the “Mahdi,” the Twelfth Imam, who is the Islamic version of the Messiah.
Hezbollah stays mostly in its base in Lebanon, and has conducted numerous terror campaigns there and in Israel. Most notably to the U.S. and France, this terrorist organization carried out the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in April of 1983, which they followed up with the simultaneous truck bombings of the French army and the U.S. Marines at the Beirut Airport in October of 1983. (They murdered 241 U.S. Marines, 58 French soldiers, and 6 civilians.)
Hezbollah has probably the best-trained, best-equipped non-state army in their corner of the world. Their military has been trained by the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, and the Iranians. They are fully equipped with a modern air-defense missile system, anti-ship missiles, hand-held surface-to-air missiles, short-range surface-to-surface rockets, and hundreds of drones for surveillance and for attacking Israeli positions. Their dug-in positions in southern Lebanon are no joke — just ask the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). While they do not have an air force, the 10,000 or so soldiers of Hezbollah can put up quite a fight against the IDF.
They profess to have more of a tolerant view of Christians than the other Islamic terror organizations (with the exception of Hamas). Hezbollah says that they promote “dialogue” with Christians and do not persecute them in their areas (so far). As for the Jews, they claim on one hand that they are against Zionism but have no problems with Jews per se. They are just opposed to Jews living in what is now modern-day Israel, and they want all those Jews dead … they say.
7. Iran. Yes, the country.
Lastly, we have the entire government of Iran. Whatever was said of Hezbollah can pretty much be said of Iran’s government, except that their army is larger, they have a navy, an air force, ballistic missiles that can hit Europe (and soon, the U.S.), and they are working on nuclear weapons. Currently their allies are Russia, China, Syria, and North Korea.
Like all the other terrorist groups, they hate Israel, they hate the West, they hate all Islamic nations that side with the West, and they want us all dead or enslaved. One other tidbit, though: they hate all the Sunni Muslims too. So, even though they may arm and train various Sunni groups now and then (like the Taliban, for example), they see themselves as the center of the Muslim universe.