Islamic Extremism

Islamic extremism is a regressive movement that seeks to revert society to a fundamental Islamic value system free of secular or foreign influence and control. Islamic extremism promotes, justifies, and uses violence to advance this goal.

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Islamic Extremism Groups

Islamic extremism is a regressive movement that seeks to revert society to a fundamental Islamic value system free of secular or foreign influence and control. Islamic extremism promotes, justifies, and uses violence to advance this goal.
The roots of Islamic extremism date back to the founding days of Islam and the Crusades that followed. Modern-day extremists reference and quote historical Islamic warriors and scholars as a means of identifying themselves with a particular Islamic ideology, defining their religious dogma, and legitimizing their use of violence and violent tactics to achieve their socio-political goals.

Acts of Islamic extremism have taken place throughout modern times, but the terrorist attacks against the U.S. on September 11, 2001 caused a rapid transformation in how many countries and organizations worldwide prioritized security and public safety efforts.

In the mid-2000s, new and dangerous trends of Islamic extremism gained prominence, including the mass enforcement of Sharia law, the normalization of brutal attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, and the use of “Takfir,” the practice of charging others with heresy or disbelief, particularly of Muslims who opposed the implementation of specific Islamic doctrine or stood in the way of the Islamic extremist organizations. These trends opened the door for attacks on a broader range of “soft targets” like mosques or large gatherings of Muslims, women and children.

In June 2014, an off-shoot of the al-Qaeda organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), changed its name to the “Islamic State” (IS) and declared itself the one true Islamic state to which all other Muslim communities across the globe should pay homage. This declaration exacerbated infighting between Islamic extremist organizations and catapulted the prominence and dominance of the Islamic State on the world stage, surpassing even the al-Qaeda organization in its capability and influence.
Islamic extremist organizations generally align with one of the two main sects of Islam: Sunni and Shia. Though the sects share core religious beliefs and cultural practices, a stark and bitter rift dating back centuries exists between the two. This rift further deepened in the late 20th century, causing violence to erupt in many parts of the Middle East as extreme Sunni and Shia organizations battled for religious and political supremacy. Extremist organizations affiliated with these two sects often treat each other as arch-enemies.

The main Sunni Islamic extremist organizations are:
  • al-Qaeda (AQ)
  • Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)
  • al-Nusrah
  • al-Shabaab

The main Shia Islamic extremist organizations are:
  • Hizballah

There are many “off-shoot” or localized Islamic extremist groups that are loosely affiliated with the larger, international organizations. These groups refer to themselves as “battalions” or “regiments” of the larger parent organizations. The main “cost” of membership to the parent group, particularly with groups like the Islamic State, is a pledge of fealty or “Bi’ah.”
Here is a list of the prominent terror organizations with their general areas of influence or control, as provided by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence:
In general, Islamic extremists, regardless of the sect with which they affiliate, seek immediate and significant political change through violence. Islamic extremists seek to move society toward a particular political-religious condition and value system. Changing the existing political order, establishing governance based on fundamentalist, Islamic doctrine and expelling foreign or secular influence are cornerstones of Islamic extremism.
Islamic extremists target individuals and locations that represent the systems and belief structures contrary to a fundamentalist Islamic value system. The range of targets for Islamic extremists is extremely broad.

Strategic targets of Islamic extremists are the militaries, leaders, structures and critical resources that support and stabilize non-Islamic governments. Islamic extremists cite the influence of foreign, secular or “Crusading” and “Zionist” governments as a fundamental impediment to Islamic rule over Muslim territory. They consider the current Arab regimes as lackeys or apostates in service to those foreign influences.

Islamic extremists have increasingly turned to cyber attacks on communications, media and social networks, and have instructed their ranks to “do what they can” electronically to further Jihad and support their extremist goals.

The main targets of Islamic extremists include individuals, locations, organizations and symbols of “anti-Islamic” institutions: popular tourist destinations; places of worship (including churches, synagogues and even “heretical” mosques); centers or symbols of capitalism (banks, markets and commercial areas); gathering places that promote an anti-Islamic value system (night clubs, sporting events, concert venues, parades).

Islamic extremist organizations encourage “lone wolf” extremists in Western or foreign countries to attack “soft targets,” including individuals (random or specified by occupation, stature or religious affiliation), schools, places of business and anywhere a large number of possible victims may be located (like public transportation environments). Islamic extremist organizations have increasingly called for and encouraged these types of violent attacks due to their relatively simple preparation, the low level of security, and the use of everyday materials and tools in their implementation.

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