Isil and al-Qaeda are the most significant radical Islamist operators

The violent radical Islamist movement is the most important terrorist threat globally. The Al-Qaeda and Isil terrorist organisations remain the principal violent radical Islamist operators.

Illustration a brown house wall.

Radical Islamism seeks to establish an ideal state derived from the teachings of Islam. Radical Islamism sees no opportunities to reform present society in its desired direction, holding instead that secularised administrative structures must be dismantled and society reorganised in an entirely new way.

Some radical Islamist operators are also willing to use violence to achieve their goal. The Finnish Security and Intelligence Service focuses its interest on violent radical Islamist activities.

Isil and al-Qaeda have extensive international networks

The most significant operators internationally in the violent radical Islamist movement are the terrorist organisations al-Qaeda and Isil. Several radical Islamist organisations in Asia or Africa have sworn their allegiance to one of these operators. Al-Qaeda and Isil have extensive international networks.

While both organisations represent Sunni radical Islamist ideology, there are also some differences in their mentality and actions. Al-Qaeda and Isil are competitors. Although both organisations seek eventually to establish an Islamic state, or caliphate, al-Qaeda and Isil pursue this goal in different ways.

Isil has sought to take possession of territories in order to integrate them into its caliphate. The clearest example of this was seen in Syria and Iraq, where Isil managed to seize and administer some territories for a short while. On the other hand, a global caliphate is essentially a long-term goal for al-Qaeda. Instead of conquering territories, the organisation primarily seeks to support its local affiliates.

The mentality of radical Islamist organisations does not represent the mainstream in Muslim countries

Radical Islamist terrorist organisations, such as al-Qaeda and Isil, consider that they are fighting the decadence of Islam. The organisations hold that Islam is weakened not only by its enemies, namely Christians and Jews, but also by those Muslims who fail to support the correct interpretation of their religion. Radical Islamist terrorist organisations find the use of extreme violence to be necessary and acceptable in order to expel enemies from Muslim-majority countries. The mentality of these organisations does not represent the mainstream in Muslim countries.

Isil takes a harsher attitude to those Muslims whom it does not consider to follow an orthodox religious interpretation. Isil seeks to eliminate all traces of heresy by its own standards. By contrast, Al-Qaeda focuses on winning the sympathies of local populations.

Isil has made especially representatives of Shia Islam, who have a different interpretation of the religion, a key target of its violence. While also considering Shiite Muslims to be heretical, al-Qaeda has adopted a more practical approach, as it does not wish to alienate local populations.

Other radical Islamist operators

There are national operators in many countries that combine nationalist goals with a radical Islamist mentality. These operators have primarily local objectives, and their violent activities are generally directed towards neighbouring territories.

Radical Shiite ideologies also give rise to armed operations and acts of terrorism. The violent activities of radical Shiite organisations are mainly localised, and focus especially on the Middle East.