Terrorist organizations occupy a constantly shifting and variegated territory. The nature of their goals require secrecy; thus, only those in the upper echelons of powerful positions know their true motives and movements. However, this list attempts to detail the deadliest terrorist organizations in the world, whether they've achieved this notoriety through the amount of attacks and people murdered, the longevity of their organization, or the fear that they've instilled in the global populace. Many people often use the word terrorism as a blanket term to cover the militant and violent activities of terrorist groups in the Middle East, but this list also encompasses organizations operating in other parts of the world. While there is no definitive definition for “terrorism,” the most infamous terrorist attack in modern history is Al Qaeda’s assault on the Twin Towers in New York City on 9/11. Many governments are doing their best to curb terrorist activities, but terrorist groups continue to thrive.
The PKK is short for the Kurdistan Worker’s Party and operates chiefly in Turkey. The PKK’s ideology stems from a desire for Kurdish independence from Turkey, and their aims are largely political. The Kurds have been systematically oppressed within Turkey, and thus practice radical versions of political systems like communism and socialism, in addition to proclaiming gender equality. They have been active since 1984, and currently have roughly 7,000 members. Unfortunately, they have often resorted to violent means in order to achieve their goals, resulting in several countries and NATO blacklisting the PKK as a terrorist organization.
9 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
Although the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, frequently shortened to FARC, have not been universally decried as a terrorist organization, the amount of human rights violations committed by this group, as well as many country’s condemnation of the group as terrorists, earns them a spot on this list. The FARC has been active since 1946, and their ideology stems from a variety of political theories, including Marxism, socialism and nationalism. The FARC is involved in the illicit drug trade, kidnapping, creation of child soldiers, executions and a whole host of other nefarious activities. They also regularly abuse the indigenous population. The FARC has a history of violence and terrorism that continue to thrive in the present day.
Hamas operates out of Palestine and is frequently anti-Semitic. Although Hamas shares many ideological tenets with neo-Nazism, because they are not composed of white Christians, Hamas is not considered a neo-Nazi group. Many of the Hamas’ actions have been condemned as war crimes, including their frequent use of bombs and rockets against Israel. One of Hamas’ most horrifying practices is their perverse use of children. Hamas uses children as human shields, and often indoctrinates children into the military, including using them as unwitting suicide bombers. Hamas constant abuse of human rights and frequent practice of war crimes make them one of the deadliest terrorist organizations active in the modern world.
7 Al Shabaab
Al Shabaab earns its spot on this list, not only because it practices recruitment of children and has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, but also because, each year, they poach tens of thousands of elephants. In the process, they murder both the elephants and their human guards in a quest for the elephant’s valuable ivory. Al Shabaab practices in Somalia and enforces sharia law in the country’s less densely populated and more rural areas. Al Shabaab has an estimated maximum of 6,000 members, and its ideology stems from the practice of radical Islam.
6 Ku Klux Klan
The Ku Klux Klan, commonly shortened to the KKK, is one of the oldest terrorist organizations on this list. Founded in the USA in 1865, the KKK originally began as a white supremacist movement intent on maintaining white superiority through murder and secrecy. Although the KK has undergone several overhauls, its core ideology remains the same, and is currently estimated to have a maximum of 8,000 members. The KKK had roughly 4,000,000 members in 1920, so membership has significantly declined. However, the KKK remains on this list for its continuous membership, historical influence and encouragement of racism and murder.
5 Jabhat al-Nusra
Jabhat al-Nusra was formed only in 2012, in response to the Syrian War, but has quickly become one of the deadliest terrorist organizations currently in existence. Jabhat al-Nusra aims to restore the Caliphate, or a supreme government ruled by a successor to Muhammad. Al Qaeda has alleged that Jabhat al-Nusra is intimately connected with them, and the organization has decried countries and individuals that do not follow Islam. They regularly coordinate suicide bombings and have also conducted mass executions. Several countries have labeled Jabhat al-Nusra as a deadly terrorist organization that is quickly gaining power and resources.
4 The Taliban
The Taliban utilizes terrorist tactics to further their goals of imposing sharia law – in 2012, 80% of civilian casualties in the Afghan world were a result of Taliban activities. The Taliban has committed countless human rights violations and crimes: they forbid the education of women, have massacred civilians and purposefully obliterated necessary food supplies. Although the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, it has returned with a vengeance, having an estimated 60,000 members. Additionally, the Taliban is rumored to have connections with countless other terrorist organizations; thus, not only do they commit unforgivable acts themselves, but they contribute to terrorism on a more global scale.
3 Boko Haram
Boko Haram operates in Nigeria and reportedly kills a minimum of seven people per terrorist attack, putting it near the top of this list. The literal translation of Boko Haram is “Western education is forbidden,” and Boko Haram’s ideology stems from radical Islam’s creation of, and effect on this statement. They are extremely resistant to Western influences, globalization and modernization. Boko Haram selects their victims based on perceived rejections of sharia law, including the Western “belief” that the world is round. Boko Haram was responsible for the kidnapping of 200 school-children in June and has also pledged their support for Al Qaeda. This organization brutally murdered over 5,000 people from June 2009 to July 2014, and will almost certainly continue their reign of terror and attempts to eliminate all forms of education and enlightenment.
2 Al Qaeda
The terrorist organization Al Qaeda is synonymous with 9/11, the day that the Twin Towers fell. Osama bin Laden became a household name overnight and, although he was killed in 2011, Al Qaeda remains extremely powerful and influential. Currently commanded by Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor with a $25 million ransom on his head, Al Qaeda now wields more power than it did under bin Laden’s rule. Al Qaeda functions predominantly in the Middle East and has a force of thousands of members. Their ideology largely revolves around the desire to enforce radical Islam, including sharia law, through terrorism and other violent means. Al Qaeda’s actions sparked the “War on Terror” initiated by the USA, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties.
ISIS is a terrorist organization that has perhaps been the most active one on this list in recent weeks. ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and is one of the youngest groups on this list, having been formed only in 2004. Like the other Islamist terrorist groups on this list, ISIS advocates a return to original interpretations of Islamic texts, including sharia law and the use of violence to enforce Islam. They have recently captured and beheaded American journalist James Foley, as well as engaging in a number of horrific acts, including stripping and beheading a multitude of women and children. ISIS regularly creates videos of their heinous acts and posts them online, further instilling fear and terror throughout the globe.