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Sample Essay on the History of Islamic Terrorist Groups

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History of Islamic Terrorist Groups: Al Qaeda

Al Qaeda was founded by Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a special ops raid in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, by U. S. Navy SEALs. This sample essay from Ultius will explore the growth of Islamic terrorism from groups like Al Qaeda, and others. Al Qaeda has been at the center of years of terrorist acts that have resulted in the deaths of innocent people who had no idea what was about to transpire ("Al-Qaeda: Islamic militant”). Despite Bin Laden's death, Al Qaeda is still a substantial terrorism threat, along with ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The objective of both groups is the same, an apocalyptic war of exponential death and destruction with the United States and the West ("Al-Qaeda: Islamic militant”). 

Attacks From Al Qaeda in the News

  • 1998: Orchestrated the simultaneous bomb detonations at the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, in East Africa ("Al-Qaeda: Islamic militant”).
  • 2000: Takes credit for the bombing of the USS Cole, a U.S. Navy warship while it was being refueled.
  • 2001: Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 2,996 people were killed and over 6,000 others were injured.
  • 2003: An Al Qaeda terrorist blasted three residential habitations in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing thirty-five individuals, among them twelve Americans.
  • 2005: Fifty-six people were killed in London in bombing set off in an underground subway which Al Qaeda took credit for.
  • 2008: One-hundred-sixty deaths occurred in bombing in the city of Mumbai, India in a massive attack from Al Qaeda

In 2009, a car-bomb attack by an Al Qaeda terrorist ultimately failed in an attempt to kill Americans in a busy area of Times Square, New York, as reported by Michael Wilson of the New York Times.

Other Notable Muslim Terrorist Organizations Recognized By The U.S. State Department 

  • Boko Haram (Nigeria)
  • Hezbollah (Lebanon)
  • Hamas (Palestine)
  • Abu Sayyaf (Philippines)
  • Jaish-e-Muhammad (Pakistan)
  • Armed Islamic Group (Algeria)
  • Islamic Jihad (Egypt) 

Unlike Al Qaeda, most of these groups have not committed terrorism internationally. Instead, they use terrorism to help overthrow the regimes in control of their countries ("Islamist Terrorism From 1945”).

A History of Islamic Extremists: ISIS and ISIL

ISIS, also known as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) has gained traction in the Middle East ("Syria Iraq: The Islamic State”). Essentially, the organization wants war against the West and has advanced as a more extremist and brutal posture than its former ally Al Qaeda.

Islamism Throughout History

The extensive terminology used when describing terrorist is often confusing and hard to classify. Some describe those who engage in terroristic violence based on Islam, Islamic terrorists ("Islamist Terrorism From 1945”). Many avoid using the term hoping to avoid associating the religion Islam with the bad apples. The Associated Press, a multinational news agency associated with many of the newspapers we read, uses the term Islamist and defines it as “an advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam”. The spread of Islam grew immensely after the fall of the Roman Empire. A half-century war between the Roman and Persiane empires created a power vacuum in the middle east which Islam was quick to fill. Islamists establish political parties and some have extremist views, but most Islamists do not engage in terrorism. Islamists often want to establish states that are founded on Islamic fundamentalism and believe that governments centered in Islamic law are the best form of government, as compared to other forms like democracy ("Islamist Terrorism From 1945”). 

Islamists are generally against anything that is based on Western beliefs, though they do not seem to be bothered by technology (Pintak). The overall goal is to diminish the distinction between the wealthy and the underprivileged, although they want women to marginalize women in their roles and in their dress, like leaving business and politics to men and wearing veils and covering themselves fully. Many Islamists prefer seventh century Islam, as expressed by the Prophet Muhammad and successors (Pintak).

Islamists terrorist, also known as jihadist terrorists, feel that they are acting as Muhammad had expressed in the Koran, and see themselves as bands of followers leading Islam to its victory (Pintak). Yet, terrorist practices are in violation of the fundamentals of Islam. Many groups, including ISIS interpret the Koran to fit within their own ideology. The book of the religious text of Islam is the Koran, which prohibits suicide, the killing of women, children and the elderly. Most Muslims are devastated by the terrorist attacks that occur and see them in direct violation of the Koran. In addition, most Muslims believe that terrorism is in violation of Islamic law. Though, ISIS and others factions still accumulate most of their members from inside Islamic fundamentalism (“Syria Iraq: The Islamic State”).

Islam has a large number of devotees worldwide, comprising the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia ("Islam Today"). Islamic sovereignty was in control of these regions for thousands of years until the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which ended after World War I. During the process of its demise, European countries were adding Islamic areas to their own empires through colonialism. Most of the former Ottoman Empire was carved up ("Islam in the Ottoman Empire”). Most of the Islamic areas finally gained back their independence after World War II. The new countries that arose from independence utilized a secular approach to government, similar to that used by Turkey after World War I, and adopted legal systems based on American or European practices, which effectively shoved Islamic law and its cultural traditions into obscurity ("Islam in the Ottoman Empire”).

Israel, The Palestine Liberation Organization

The United Nations, an intergovernmental organization with the objective of promoting international cooperation, divided Palestine into two areas in 1948, representing Jewish and Arab states ("United Nations"; "Israel, Palestine”). This decision, given the history of Israelis and Palestinians was rejected by the nearby Arab countries because it was perceived as colonialism, yet again. Israel was attacked by the disgruntled countries, but managed to both defend and expand its nation. In 1967, Syria and Egypt planned to initiate a new war, but Israel attacked them first. The war only took six days, but Israel claimed an enormous amount of Egyptian land, including land up to the Suez Canal, Syria’s Golan Heights, Jordan’s West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Another failed attempt was made by Egypt and Syria in 1973. The consecutive failures demonstrated the weakness of Arab states and showed the military prowess and economic stability of Israel. The PLO, or the Palestinian Liberation Organization, was established and began its war against Israel. The PLO was not a religious organization and engaged in secular efforts, preferring not to favor one Islamic state over the other, though factions began to engage in terroristic tactics such as shooting, bombing, kidnapping and hijackings. During the 1980s, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad joined forces in an effort to conquer Israel and the PLO. Suicide bombers were among the tactics used in an effort to create havoc within Israel (Kedar).

Islamic Fundamentalism and a History of Terrorist Roots

Islamic fundamentalism has been spreading over the years (Choueiri). This is due in part to grassroots efforts and to Saudi Arabian government sponsored efforts. The Muslim Brotherhood is the main grassroots effort contributing to the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. Founded in Egypt, in 1928, the organization is spread throughout over seventy nations globally. Its original objective was to create the perfect government based on Sharia principles, of “self-help, generosity, family values, social services for the poor, and restricting women to their traditional role in the home” ("Islamist Terrorism From 1945”). In 1948, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood assassinated the prime minister of Egypt, Mahmoud Fahmi an Nukrashi Pasha. This action caused the Brotherhood to split loyalties between those who believed in non-violence and those that supported the use of violence. This split has been replicated in other countries, as well. CNN reports that The Muslim Brotherhood started out as a peaceful operation, but splintered into some entities that embrace violence.

Beyond the grassroots effort, Islamic fundamentalism has advanced due to the Saudi Arabian government (Choueiri). Saudi Arabia stores approximately one fourth of oil reserves on the globe, providing great wealth to many. The Saudi government supports Islamic fundamentalism, which is referred to as Wahhabism. Wahhabism origins stem from a Muslim named Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab, a Sunni Muslim preacher and scholar from Arabia who believed in purifying Islam by going back to its original principles. Wahhab partnered with the Saudi Arabian family to suppress those who opposed Islamic fundamentalism. In 1932, the Wahhabis and the Saudi family established the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. After the creation of the Kingdom, the Saudi royal family gave complete control of Saudi legal, moral, educational, and religious matters to the Wahhabi clergy. Saudi Arabia does not have an elected government, does not allow religious freedom and does not impart human rights. As Alastiar Crooke of The Huffington Post writes, if you steal, your hands will be cut off. Women are not often in public prominence and do not drive cars. Yet, things are changing slightly, for women have received the right to vote and run for local public office. The first election took place in 2015. Money from the rich Saudi oil reserves fund Wahhabi schools, mosques, missionaries and the spread of Wahhabism in America.

Birth of Hezbollah: Terrorists in Iran

In 1979, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the shah of Iran was overthrown (“Shah Flees Iran"). This event excited the Muslim world. The shah was not viewed favorably in the Arab world. He was put in power by the United States and the UK after a 1959 coup d'état in which overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh. Pahlavi was perceived as a traitor to the religion. American diplomats from the U. S. embassy in Iran were held hostage for over a year. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a Shiite Muslim, took over the leadership of Iran (“Shah Flees Iran"). Shiite Muslims only represent about fifteen percent of all Muslims, but are a majority in Iran, Bahrain, and Iraq and represent about forty percent of Lebanon. Khomeini became the Supreme Religious Leader and retained control over the military, the education of the nation, the laws, the public morality, and the courts. But the people wanted democratic reforms. During this period Iran actively armed and financed radical members of Islamist groups. The Hezbollah of Lebanon, also known as the Party of God, engaged in kidnapping Westerners and claimed responsibility for bombing 241 U. S. Marines, soldiers and sailors. For eighteen years, Hezbollah created problems for Israelis occupying the southern portion of Lebanon, and they eventually departed their occupation in 2000 ("Profile: Lebanon's Hezbollah movement"). 

Muslim Jihadists vs the Soviet Union

In 1979, the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan at the request of the government then in power ("Islamist Terrorism From 1945”). At first they came covertly to advise, but soon the Soviets came in full force toppling the government, killing president Hafizullah Amin, and installing rival Afghan socialist Babrak Karmal. Money in support of the Afghan Mujahideen poured in from the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Many say that Afghanistan was actually the Cold War battleground between the United States and the Soviet Union. The war lasted for over nine years and many believe that it contributed to the ultimate fall of the Soviet Union ("Islamist Terrorism From 1945”).


With all the attention focused on these violent terrorist groups, it's easy to forget about the millions of Muslims who just want to live peacefully. Most Muslims condemn the actions of groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS, and others. Often, it is innocent Muslim civilians who are killed or injured in the name of a Jihad they wanted nothing to do with. We hope you enjoyed reading this sample essay. If you are ever tasked with writing your own essay and writer's block sets in, let the professionals at Ultius get you past it. Ultius offers a wide variety of writing services, including sample essays like this one you can purchase, and leave the deadlines to us.

Want to learn more about extremist views? Check out more examples of extremism in everyday life.

Works Cited

"Al-Qaeda: Islamic militant organization. Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. n. d. Web. 31 August 2016. 

Chossudovsky, Michael. "India’s 9/11. Who was Behind the Mumbai Attacks?" Global Research. GlobalResearch.ca. 19 November 2012. Web. 31 August 2016. 

Choueiri, Youssef. "Islamic Fundamentalism." n. d. Web. 31 August 2016. 

Crooke, Alastair. "You Can't Understand ISIS if You Don't Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia." Huffington Post. TheHuffintonPost.com Inc. 27 August 2014. Web. 31 August 2016. 

"Islamist Terrorism From 1945 to the Rise of ISIS." Constitutional Rights Foundation. n. d. Web. 31 August 2016. 

"Islam in the Ottoman Empire." Encyclopedia. Encyclopedia.com. 2004. Web. 31 August 2016. 

"Islam Today." PBS. PBSOnline. n. d. Web. 31 August 2016. .

"Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories." Global Policy. Global Policy Forum. n. d. Web. 31 August 2016. 

Jones, Bryony and Cullinane, Susannah. "What is the Muslim Brotherhood?" CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. 3 July 2013. Web. 31 August 2016. 

Kedar, Mordechai. "Jihad Forever." Mordechai Kedar. n. d. Web. 31 August 2016. .

"London bombings of 2005." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. n. d. Web. 31 August 2016. 

Pintak, Lawrence. "Not All Islamists Are Out to Kill Us." Foreign Policy. 19 July 2016. Web. 31 August 2016. 

"Profile: Lebanon's Hezbollah movement." BBC News. BBC. 15 March 2016. Web. 31 August 2016. 

"Shah Flees Iran." History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 31 August 2016. 

"Syria Iraq: The Islamic State militant group." BBC News. BBC. 2 August 2014. Web. 31 August 2016. .

"United Nations." Encyclopedia. Encyclopedia.com. 2004. Web. 31 August 2016. 

Wilson, Michael. "Shahzad Gets Life Term for Times Square Bombing Attempt." The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 5 October 2010. Web. 31 August 2016. 

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