The history of humanity is punctuated by some of the most barbaric violence imaginable – and various terrorist organizations are guilty of some of the worst violent acts. Kidnapping children and using them as suicide bombers and killers, exploiting women and using them as sex slaves, cutting off limbs of victims as a punishment, decapitating victims, using innocent civilians as human shields and hostages – there is no crime too horrible for some terrorist organizations. Read this list to quickly learn about the most vicious terrorist organizations in the world.
While a lot of people have heard about organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, many other terrorist organizations are guilty of worse crimes. These are organizations whose attacks have shocked people across the world and have jolted international authorities into strong and united action. Some of these organizations have destabilized entire nations and regions and have brought untold suffering and misery to millions of innocent people.
At times, we tend to think of terrorism as a distant disease prevalent only in a few small, poor and dysfunctional nations. However, some of the most prosperous countries and the largest economies have also suffered horrifically at the hands of some terrorist organizations. As the noted philosopher and novelist George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Hence, it is worthwhile to know about the most barbaric terrorist organizations and the ideologies and thought processes that fuelled them. Hopefully, this understanding and knowledge would help us develop ideas and views that would protect humanity in future. So, read through this short list quickly and understand what drives terrorism.
15. Irish Republican Army (IRA)
The Irish Republican Army reportedly came into existence in 1919 formally. Since then, this organization has morphed into various breakaway terror organizations, such as Official IRA, Provisional IRA, Continuity IRA, Real IRA, etc. In just three decades (from the late 60s to the 90s), the IRA unleashed massive violence that resulted in close to 3,500 deaths and injured over 50,000 people.
The IRA was motivated by the desire for independence from Britain – the desire for a united and independent Ireland that would not be beholden to Britain in any manner. This led to a civil war initially and later, outright terrorism. While Britain did offer various concessions from time to time (such as limited autonomy), many IRA members rejected these and continued fighting.
The IRA was particularly notorious for using new methods of violence, including car bombings, plastic explosives and other forms of sneak attacks. While they often targeted security personnel, they also pioneered explosions in bars and other crowded places, which resulted in massive civilian casualties.
The Naxalites are among the largest and most barbaric terrorist groups in the world. Naxalite violence encompasses almost half of India’s states. It is claimed that in the last decade alone, Naxalites are responsible for over 10,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries. Some estimates put the number of Naxalites at between 35,000 to 50,000.
The Naxalites started in 1967 and are inspired by Mao’s ideology. They seek to overthrow democracy in India and establish a communist dictatorship. In 2012, the then Indian Prime Minister described Naxalites as the most serious threat to India’s internal security.
Today, the Naxalites are notorious for planned bombings and ambush attacks on security personnel. In 2010, a single attack by close to 1,000 Naxalites resulted in the deaths of 76 paramilitary personnel. They are also accused of large-scale killings of civilians and in some attacks, have allegedly killed over 100 innocent villagers. They are accused of extorting villagers, cutting off body parts of civilians as punishment, and kidnapping and exploiting women and children, who are used as sex slaves and are forced to carry out pre-planned attacks.
13. Boko Haram
The Boko Haram was formed in 2002 and was believed to be affiliated to Al-Qaeda. Later, it claimed to have links with ISIS. In the last 7 years alone, this group has reportedly caused over 20,000 deaths and has forced 2.3 million people to move away from their homes. In 2014 alone, this group allegedly killed nearly 7,000 people.
This group is notorious for mass abductions. In April 2014, it kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in a single attack in the town of Chibok. Some of these girls were allegedly used as sex slaves while some were reportedly forcibly married to Boko Haram members.
This group operates in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon. The group considers western practices (including western education) abhorrent and wishes to establish an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria. Various reports claim that around 6,000 to 15,000 Boko Haram operatives are currently active. In 2015, the Global Terrorism Index ranked Boko Haram as the world’s deadliest terror group.
12. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
The FARC (Spanish name – Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) was founded in 1964 and is believed to have nearly 10,000 active members. This group is notorious for conducting murderous attacks on security personnel and on innocent civilians and is also accused of extortion, kidnapping for ransom, and production and distribution of drugs.
The UN estimates that FARC could be responsible for close to 7 to 8% of all civilian deaths in the Colombian conflict. This group is also accused of using child soldiers and forcing women into sex slavery. The Human Rights Watch claims that between 20 to 30% of FARC members are minors while around 40% of its members are women.
This organization was started as the military branch of Colombia’s communist party. Its primary objective was to establish a Marxist-Leninist government in Colombia. Other ideologies that this group espouses are anti-imperialism, Guevarism, Bolivarianism, revolutionary socialism, etc. In recent times, this group has signed a peace deal with the government of Colombia.
The Hezbollah includes a terrorist wing and a political party based in Lebanon. Founded in 1985, this group’s stated objective is the expulsion of the Americans, the French and their allies from Lebanon and decimating any colonialist entity on their land. This group was trained and organized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and it claims allegiance to Ayatollah Khomeini. Its avowed ideologies include anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism, anti-western imperialism, etc. This group waged a guerrilla war in southern Lebanon and forced the exit of Israel from this territory. The South Lebanon Army also collapsed and surrendered due to Hezbollah attacks. During the Bosnian war, the Hezbollah reportedly fought against Serbian forces as well.
This group is alleged to have between 10,000 to 65,000 fighters according to different reports. This group is estimated to be more powerful than the Lebanese army and has been described by Israeli sources as the greatest guerrilla group in the world. This group is notorious for conducting numerous suicide bombings, which have resulted in massive civilian casualties.
10. Lord’s Resistance Army
The Lord’s Resistance Army is active since 1987 and operates in Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This group claims to be inspired by Christian beliefs and its stated objective is the establishment of a democratic government over Uganda, in line with the Ten Commandments. It is led by a self-declared prophet, Joseph Kony.
This group is notorious for targeted murders, abductions, mutilation, child-sex slavery and forcing children to become its soldiers. It is alleged that this group may be responsible for over 20,000 deaths and displacement of over 1.7 million people from their homes.
During January to July 2005 alone, this group reportedly abducted nearly 1300 Ugandans (of which roughly half were children under the age of 15). During Christmas 2008, this group attacked a celebration and killed 143 people and abducted another 180 people. During a four-day period in December 2009, this group is alleged to have killed at least 321 people and abducted another 250 people.
9. ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna – Basque Country and Freedom)
The ETA was founded in 1959 with the objective of driving the Spanish government out of Spanish Basque territory and gaining independence for Greater Basque Country. This group operates in Spain and France and is alleged to have killed nearly 1,000 people. This group is notorious for bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings.
The ETA claims to have directed attacks against enemies of Basque people. Most of its attacks have occurred in the Basque county and in Spain’s capital Madrid. The ETA has repeatedly targeted Spanish security personnel (even retired personnel), businessmen, parliamentarians and other politicians, university professors, and even journalists.
The ETA is alleged to have directed attacks against the Lemoniz nuclear power plant – it is believed to have killed at least 5 people who worked at this plant (including an engineer who was kidnapped and executed). Similarly, the group had killed 4 people who were involved in the construction of an important highway. The group also killed the owner of a company involved in the construction of high-speed railways in Spain.
8. Caucasus Emirate
The Caucasus emirate has its origins in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and the Caucasus National Front. This group officially came into existence in 2007 and it operates in Russia, Syria, Iraq, Georgia and Azerbaijan. This group’s ideologies include Salafist jihadism, Islamic fundamentalism, and separatism. The group’s stated objectives include the expulsion of Russia from North Caucasus and the establishment of an Islamic state in the region.
This group is especially notorious for conducting large bombings that have resulted in massive civilian casualties. This group was suspected to be responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which killed 3 people and caused injuries to several hundred people. This group is also responsible for the 2009 Nevsky Express train bombing, which killed 27 people and injured 95 others.
Some of the other major attacks carried out by this group include the 2010 Moscow Metro bombings, which killed 40 people and injured more than 100, the Domododevo International Airport bombing, which killed at least 36 people, and the 2013 Volgograd bombings, which killed over 40 people.
7. LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam)
The LTTE was founded in 1976 by Vellupillai Prabhakaran with the objective of establishing an independent state of Tamil Elam in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka. The LTTE is said to be the only terrorist group that is known to have assassinated two world leaders – Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa and former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi.
It is estimated that, at its peak, the LTTE had an annual revenue of over $300 million. The LTTE had even used light aircraft in some of its attacks. Similarly, suicide vests were allegedly invented by this group. Use of women as suicide bombers was also started by the LTTE.
The LTTE is alleged to have been responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 people and for the displacement of almost a million people. As per various reports, the LTTE may have had as many as 30,000 members at one point of time. It is claimed that the LTTE killed over 23,000 Sri Lankan security personnel and close to 1,200 Indian security personnel.
6. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)
The LeT was founded in 1987 by Hafiz Saeed and others, allegedly with funding from Osama Bin Laden. The group’s stated objective is to create an Islamic state in South Asia and to expel India from the Kashmir state. This group is notorious for carrying out many terrorist attacks on Indian territory, including the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, the 2006 Mumbai train bombings, in which over 200 people were killed, and the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, in which 164 people were killed.
This group is believed to operate several terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir. It is believed that Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani intelligence agency, continues to help and support this organization. This group is said to have issued a fatwa against Pope Benedict XVI, asking for his assassination.
Some of the deadliest attacks attributed to this group include the Chittisinghpura massacre, in which 35 Sikhs were killed, the Kaluchak massacre, in which 31 people were killed, and the Delhi bombings, in which 60 people were killed during the festival of Diwali.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban terrorist organization is said to be a conglomerate comprised of various smaller terrorist groups. These groups aim to overthrow the government of Pakistan, impose a sharia state (Islamic state) and also seek to expel NATO forces from Afghanistan.
This group has been active since 2007. It primarily operates in Pakistan, though it has claimed responsibility for the 2009 Camp Chapman attack, which is said to be the deadliest attack against the CIA in nearly three decades. This suicide bombing caused the deaths of seven CIA personnel, and two others, and also caused injuries to six other CIA personnel. This group also claims to have orchestrated the attempted Times Square bombing in 2010.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban is estimated to have close to 25,000 members. This group is believed to be responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan. The group is also responsible for many other major attacks in Pakistan. It is also claimed that Tehrik-i-Taliban terrorists may be participating in the civil war in Syria.
4. Taliban – Also Known As Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan (IEA)
The Taliban, an Afghanistan-based terror organization, has been active since 1994. This group controlled large parts of Afghanistan during 1996 to 2001. During this period, the group had imposed sharia (Islamic law) in the regions under its control. The ideologies espoused by this group include Deobandi fundamentalism, Pashtunwali, and other religious fundamentalism.
This group was overthrown by US-led forces after the September 11 attacks. Following this, the Taliban started conducting attacks against the Afghan government and the International Security Assistance Force. It is believed that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, backs this organization.
During its reign from 1996 to 2001, this group is alleged to have committed numerous murderous attacks against the people of Afghanistan, destroyed tens of thousands of homes and burned vast tracts of fertile land. The group is also accused of innumerable incidents of brutal and violent treatment of women. Further, the UN claims that this organization is responsible for over 75% of civilian deaths in Afghanistan during 2010 to 2012.
The Al-Shabaab is an East Africa based Salafist jihadist fundamentalist group that has been active since 2006. This group has links to the Al Qaeda and is estimated to have up to 9,000 members. While most of these members are Somalis, the group also includes members from Yemen, Sudan, the Swahili coast, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, UK, and other countries. This group claims to be waging a holy war or jihad against the enemies of Islam and is involved in a deadly conflict with the government of Somalia and the African Union Mission in Somalia.
The Al-Shabaab is believed to be responsible for several thousand deaths and for the displacement of tens of thousands of people. The group is accused of committing grave human rights’ violations. In 2009, this group allegedly claimed that wearing bras was un-Islamic and it started publicly whipping women caught wearing bras. This group is also suspected of having ties with Somali pirates.
2. Al-Qaeda (The Foundation)
The Al-Qaeda is a group of many smaller Islamic extremist and Salafist jihadist terrorist organizations. It was founded in 1988 by Osama bin Laden and others, many of whom had fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion. Various reports claim that this group has between 45,000 to 70,000 members. This group believes that there is a Jewish-Christian plan to destroy Islam. The group also aims to repeal and abolish all man-made laws and replace them with sharia law.
Affiliates of Al-Qaeda are involved in violent conflicts in many parts of the world, including Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Maghreb, West Africa, Mali, the Arabian peninsula, India, etc. From time to time, many of these groups have been accused of conducting deadly attacks that have resulted in massive casualties.
Some of the deadliest attacks linked to the Al-Qaeda include the 1998 US embassy bombings, which killed over 200 people, the September 11 attacks, which killed 2,996 people and injured over 6,000, the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, and the April 18, 2007, Baghdad bombings, which killed nearly 200 people.
1. ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)
The ISIS (also known as ISIL – Islamic State of Syria and the Levant) has been active since 2013 and is notorious for videos of beheadings, destruction of cultural heritage sites, massive human rights abuses and war crimes, including ethnic cleansing. At its peak, the group was in control of a region with a civilian population of nearly 8 million people. During this period, this group had overthrown Iraqi security forces in many places and had seized control of many important Iraqi cities and towns.
This group had declared itself a caliphate and thus, demanded that all Muslims across the world should follow its orders. The group is currently active in many countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Egypt, Somalia, etc. Various reports estimate that this group may have between 50,000 to 200,000 members. Similarly, it is estimated that the annual revenues of this group may run into several billion dollars. This group has claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest terror attacks in recent times in many parts of the world.