Statistics gathered for 2006 by the National Counterterrorism Center of the United States indicated that "Islamic extremism" was responsible for approximately a quarter of all terrorism fatalities worldwide, and a majority of the fatalities for which responsibility could be conclusively determined. Terrorist acts have included airline hijacking, beheading, kidnapping, assassination, roadside bombing, suicide bombing, and occasionally rape.
Perhaps the most resonant, well known, and well documented incident of terrorism was the hijacking of four passenger jets and the destruction of the World Trade Center on the day of September 11 2001, in the United States of America. Other prominent attacks have occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Israel, Britain, Spain, France, Russia and China. These terrorist groups often describe their actions as Islamic jihad (struggle). Self-proclaimed sentences of punishment or death, issued publicly as threats, often come in the form of fatwas (Islamic legal judgments). Both Muslims and non-Muslims have been among the targets and victims, but threats against Muslims are often issued as takfir (a declaration that a person, group or institution that describes itself as Muslim has in fact left Islam and thus is a traitor). This is an implicit death threat as the punishment for apostasy in Islam is death under Sharia law.
The controversies surrounding the subject include whether the terrorist act is self-defense or aggression, national self-determination or Islamic supremacy; the targeting of noncombatants; whether Islam ever could condone terrorism; whether some attacks described as Islamic terrorism are merely terrorist acts committed by Muslims or nationalists; how much support there is in the Muslim world for Islamic terrorism; whether the Arab-Israeli Conflict is the root of Islamic terrorism, or simply one cause.
"Islamic terrorism" is itself a controversial phrase, although its usage is widespread throughout the English-speaking world. Bernard Lewis believes that the phrase "Islamic terrorism" is apt, because although "Islam as a religion" is not "particularly conducive to terrorism or even tolerant of terrorism", Islam has had an
essentially political character ... from its very foundation ... to the present day. An intimate association between religion and politics, between power and cult, marks a principal distinction between Islam and other religions. ... In traditional Islam and therefore also in resurgent fundamentalist Islam, God is the sole source of sovereignty. God is the head of the state. The state is God's state. The army is God's army. The treasury is God's treasury, and the enemy, of course, is God's enemy.
This argument is countered by Jamal Nassar and Karim H. Karim, who contend that, because there are over a billion adherents of the religion, the phenomenon is more precisely regarded as "Islamist terrorism" or "militant Islamism", because Islamism describes political ideologies rooted in interpretations of Islam. In this vein, describing terrorism as "Islamic" may confirm "a prejudicial perspective of all things Islamic".
Karen Armstrong contends that "fundamentalism is often a form of nationalism in religious disguise", and that using the phrase "Muslim terrorism" is dangerously counterproductive, as it suggests those in the west believe that such atrocities are caused by Islam, and hence reinforces the viewpoint of some in the Muslim world that the west is an implacable enemy. Armstrong believes that the terrorists in no way represent mainstream Islam, and suggests the use of other terms such as "Wahhabi terrorism" and "Qutbian terrorism".
Some prominent Islamic terror groups and incidents include the following:
Formed by bin Laden and Muhammad Atef in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of 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. Since its formation Al Qaeda has committed a number of terrorist acts in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Although once supported by the Taliban organization in Afghanistan, the U.S. and British governments never considered the Taliban to have been a terrorist organization.
Major lethal attacks on civilians in Europe credited to Islamic terrorism include the March 11 2004 bombings of commuter trains in Madrid, where 191 people were killed and 2,050 wounded, and the 7 July 2005 London bombings, also of public transport, which killed 52 commuters and injured 700.
In the September 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis 1,200 schoolchildren and adults were taken hostage after "School Number One" secondary school in Beslan, North Ossetia-Alania was overrun by the "Caucasus Caliphate Jihad" led by Shamil Basayev. As many as 500 died, including 186 children. According to the only surviving attacker, Nur-Pashi Kulayev, the choice of a school and the targeting of mothers and young children by the attackers was done in hopes of generating a maximum of outrage and igniting a wider war in the Caucasus with the ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic Emirate across the whole of the North Caucasus.
They include the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda affiliate; Al-Faruq Brigades, a militant wing of the Islamic Movement in Iraq (Al-Harakah al-Islamiyyah fi al-arak); Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna; the Mujahideen of the Victorious Sect (Mujahideen al ta’ifa al-Mansoura); the Mujahideen Battalions of the Salafi Group of Iraq (Kata’ib al mujahideen fi al-jama’ah al-salafiyah fi al-‘arak); the Jihad Brigades/Cell; "White Flags, Muslim Youth and Army of Mohammed" ; Ansar al-Islam, a Taliban-like, jihadist group with ties to Al Qaeda. At least some of the terrorism has a transnational character in that some foreign Islamic jihadists have joined the insurgency.
Hezbollah is a Shi'a militia, political party, and social services provider based in Lebanon. Six governments consider it, or a part of it, to be a terrorist group responsible for blowing up the American embassy and later its annex, as well as the barracks of American and French peacekeeping troops and a dozens of kidnappings of foreigners in Beirut. It is also accused of being the recipient of massive aid from its Persian Shia Neighbor Iran, and of serving "Iranian foreign policy calculations and interests,"or serving as a "subcontractor of Iranian initiatives" Hezbollah denies any involvement or dependence on Iran.
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. In 2005, the Lebanese Prime Minister said of Hezbollah, it "is not a militia. It's a resistance."
Hezbollah's simultaneous suicide attacks on US and French barracks in Beirut and the withdrawal of American peacekeeping troops shortly thereafter the bombings prompted is thought to have "made a profound impression on bin Laden.
The 1988 charter of Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel, and it still states its goal to be the elimination of Israel. Its "military wing" has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in Israel. 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. For example, "a series of spectacular suicide attacks by Palestinians that killed 63 Israelis and led directly to the election victory of Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party on May 29 1996.
Hamas justifies these attacks as necessary in fighting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, and as responses to Israeli attacks on Palestinian targets. The wider movement also serves as a charity organization and provides services to Palestinians.
Hamas has been designated as a terrorist group by the European Union, Canada, the United States, Israel, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and Human Rights Watch. Opponents of this view claim that Israel is not a legitimate state because of the conditions of its establishment after World War II.
The PIJ's armed wing, the Al-Quds brigades, has claimed responsibility for numerous militant attacks in Israel, including suicide bombings and the group has been designated as a terrorist group by the several countries in the West.
The group was formed after the supporters of Maulana Masood Azhar split from another Islamic militant organization, Harkut-ul-Mujahideen. It is believed that the group gets considerable funding from Pakistani expatriates in the United Kingdom. The group is regarded as a terrorist organization by several countries including India, United States and United Kingdom. Jaish-e-Mohammed is viewed by some as the "deadliest" and "the principal terrorist organization in Jammu and Kashmir". The group was also implicated in the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
Since its inception in the early 1990s, the group has carried out bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, rapes, 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).
An increasingly popular tactic used by terrorists is suicide bombing. This tactic is used against civilians, soldiers, and government officials of the regimes the terrorists oppose. The use of suicide bombers is seen by many Muslims as contradictory to Islam's teachings; 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 to the cause of jihad against the enemy, will receive the rewards of paradise for their actions.
One source has found interest in new and so far unutilized bombing technique on internet forums used by the Islamic terror group al-Qaeda - the use of "remote-piloted aircraft" and "robot designs," and "training dogs to recognize American troops’ uniforms," as a replacement for techniques such as suicide bombing or a detonating planted bombs with a radio-control.
In particular, scholar Scott Atran, points out that the massive increase in suicide bombing has meant most suicide bombings have occurred after Pape's study ended in 2003. "Roughly 600," suicide attacks occurred in just two years, 2004 and 2005, more "than in Pape's entire sample, - and the overwhelming majority of these bombers have been motivated by the ideology of Islamist martyrdom.
Some supporters of Palestinian political violence have claimed that citizens of Israel are legitimate military targets because Jewish adolescents are required by law to serve in the country's military.
Former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer's view is that Islamic terror attacks against America are motivated by the perception that U.S. foreign policy is a threat to Islam. He has further condensed his argument down to the phrase "They hate us for what we do, not who we are." By this, Scheuer acknowledges that American culture and religion are offensive to many Muslims, but claims these factors have very little role as motivators of Islamic terrorism. Rather, he cites the following U.S. foreign policy actions as fueling Islamic terror:
Bergesen and Lizardo wrote "Crenshaw (2001:425) argues that 'terrorism should be seen as a strategic reaction to American power,' an idea associated with Johnson's (2000) 'blowback' thesis. In this view, the presence of empires - both at the end of the last century and today - and the analogous unipolar military position of the United States today (Brooks and Wohlforth 2002) provoke resistance in the form of terrorism. Johnson (2000) notes that the Russian, Ottoman, and Habsburg Empires - which controlled multiple ethnic, religious, and national peoples - led to a backlash, or blowback, by Serb, Macedonian, and Bosnian terrorist organisations (the Black Hand, Young Bosnia, Narodnaya Volya). By analogy the powerful global position of the United States, particularly in its role of propping up repressive undemocratic regimes, constitutes something of a similar condition with Arab-Islamic terrorism as a result. The causal mechanism here is that the projection of military power plants seeds of later terrorist reactions, as 'retaliation for previous American imperial actions' (Johnson 2000:9)
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. ....
Another author, 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". He concluded "social networks", the "tight bonds of family and friendship" rather than behavioral disorders "poverty, trauma, madness, [or] ignorance" inspired alienated young Muslims to join the jihad" and kill.
What may be an indication that this profile is changing comes from a 2007 study of 110 suicide bombers in Afghanistan, by an 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.
Tenets of Qutbism have been summarized by Dale C. Eikmeier as being:
Transnational Islamist ideology, specifically of the militant Islamists, assert a Western polities and society are actively anti-Islamic, or as it is sometimes described, waging a "war on 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 describes 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 Muslim, rather than "fard al-kifaya", a communal obligation, which if some Muslims perform it is not required from others. Hence, framing a fight as defensive has the advantage both of appearing to be a victim rather than aggressor, and of giving your struggle the very highest religious priority for all good Muslims.
Many of the violent terrorist groups use the name of Jihad to fight against Christians and Jews. 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.
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 US State Department report, India topped the list of countries worst affected by Islamic terrorism.
In addition, Islamist Jihadis, 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. ...
... the believer ... should boycott the goods of America and her allies, and he should be very wary that he does not support falsehood, for helping the infidels over Muslims -- even with a single word is clear unbelief, as the religious scholars have decreed.and that Taliban-ruled Afghanistan (deposed in 2001) "is the only Islamic country" in the world. Islamic law traditionally designates death as the penalty for apostasy (converting) from Islam.
Opinions within the Muslim community vary as to the grounds on which an individual may be declared to have apostatized. The most common view among Muslim scholars is that a declaration of takfir (designation of a Muslim as an apostate) can only be made by an established religious authority. Mainstream Muslim scholars usually oppose recourse to takfir, except in rare instances. Takfir was used as justification for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
The role played by the Qur'an, Islam's sacred text, in opposing or in encouraging attacks on civilians is hotly disputed.
Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, an Iranian-born American citizen awaiting trial for nine counts of attempted murder, cited a number of verses from the Qur'an in justifying his attempt to kill civilians, including:
Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.
The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;
But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. The Jews call 'Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!
Marmaduke Pickthall, a Western convert to Islam and Islamic scholar commented on verse, references verse , and interpreted these particular verses to mean that fighting is not optional when done in defense of the oppressed and the weak.
Pickthall goes on to say that “Nowhere does the Qur’an approve a spirit of revenge” and situates verse in the context of a defensive war. Ibn Kathir stated that the Quran clearly commands believers to prefer forgiveness over retaliation wherever possible.
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.". 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."
Criticism of Islamic terrorism on Islamic grounds has also been made by anti-terrorist Muslims such as Abdal-Hakim Murad:
Certainly, neither bin Laden nor his principal associate, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are graduates of Islamic universities. And so their proclamations ignore 14 centuries of Muslim scholarship, and instead take the form of lists of anti-American grievances and of Koranic quotations referring to early Muslim wars against Arab idolaters. These are followed by the conclusion that all Americans, civilian and military, are to be wiped off the face of the Earth. All this amounts to an odd and extreme violation of the normal methods of Islamic scholarship. Had the authors of such fatwas followed the norms of their religion, they would have had to acknowledge that no school of mainstream Islam allows the targeting of civilians. An insurrectionist who kills non-combatants is guilty of baghy, “armed aggression,” a capital offense in Islamic law.
One counter-terrorism scholar, Dale C. 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 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.
Yemeni Judge Hamoud Al-Hitar has also attacked the Islamic intellectual basis of terrorism using hujjat or proof "in theological dialogues that challenge and then correct the wayward beliefs" of terrorists or would-be terrorists.
Iranian Ayatollah Ozma Seyyed Yousef Sanei issued a fatwa (ruling) that suicide attacks against civilians are legitimate only in the context of war. 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.
On the other hand, Fethullah Gülen, a prominent Turkish Islamic scholar, has claimed that "a real Muslim," who understood Islam in every aspect, could not be a terrorist. There are many other people with similar points of view such as Karen Armstrong, Prof. Ahmet Akgunduz, and Harun Yahya
A Sunday Times survey taken in UK shortly after the 9/11 attack "revealed that 40% of British Muslims believe Usama bin Laden was right to attack the United States. About the same proportion think that British Muslims have a right to fight alongside the Taliban. A radio station serving London's Pakistani community conducted a poll which 98% of London Muslims under 45 said they would not fight for Britain, while 48% said they would fight for bin Laden."
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. A Daily Telegraph survey showed that 6% of British Muslims fully supported the July 2005 bombings in the London Underground.
A 2004 Pew survey revealed that Osama bin Laden is viewed favorably by large percentages in Pakistan (65%), Jordan (55%) and Morocco (45%). In Turkey as many as 31% say that suicide attacks against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq are justifiable.
The Free Muslims Coalition rallied against terror, stating that they wanted to send "a message to radical Muslims and supporters of terrorism that we reject them and that we will defeat them."
Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, a Muslim and the general manager of Arab news channel, Al-Arabiya has said: "It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims." Statistics compiled by the United States government's Counterterrorism Center present a more 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.The methodology employed by the Center is sometimes disputed and the center has been accused of responding to political pressure from the Bush administration to show a decline in terrorism.
In 2006, Palestine voters gave the group Hamas - which is designated as a terrorist organization in Israel, United States, Canada, and the European Union - a majority of the seats in its parliament. though there is question as to whether whether the election results represent support for the organization's militia tactics, support for the organization's social programs, or dissatisfaction with the previous government which was widely seen as corrupt and incompetent.
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.
Daniel Chirot said "Not many people in the world, either in Islamic countries, or Christian ones, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or anything else, really want to live a life of extreme puritanism, endless hate, and suicidal wars. Extremist leaders can take power, and for a time, be backed by much of their population hoping to redress past grievances and trying to find a new utopia. But as with the most extreme Christian warriors during the European wars of religion, or with the Nazis, or the most committed communist revolutionaries, it eventually turned out that few of their people were willing to go all the way in their struggles if that meant permanent violence, suffering, and death. So it will be with Islamic extremism."