A Comparison of ISIS and Al Qaeda

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ISIS began as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999. It then changed its name to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). It pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda in 2004. It inevitably defied orders from al-Qaeda, which prompted a break between the two organizations in 2014 due to a power struggle that lasted eight months. Al-Qaeda cut all ties with ISIL, referring to its inability to counsel and give guidance. On the other hand, Al-Qaeda is a global Islamist group that began in the middle of August 1988 and late 1989 (Byman, 2015). It was founded by Osama Bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, and a few different activists who were at the time war in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. It was as of now that its leaders came to trust that they should shield Islam from the heathens. Al-Qaeda likewise looks to set up an overall caliphate headed by Al-Qaeda. The extremist group does not recognize laws made by man but strictly adheres to the teachings of Quran and Sharia law.

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Al-Qaeda was established by Osama Bin Laden after the Soviet control of Afghanistan. The reason for the group was to unite jihadists from everywhere throughout the world to Afghanistan, prepare them, exchange strategies and techniques, create contacts with each other, and afterward send them back to their nations of origin to help endeavors to overthrow the government (Editors, 2014). They needed to oust what they thought were degenerate and un-Islamic governments and achieve another worldwide caliphate. Inevitably, Al-Qaeda moved its concentration from straightforwardly invading Muslim nations to centering their attacks against the United States and other Western nations. Al-Qaeda trusted that if Muslim governments were denied of Western help they would rapidly fall, which would permit the important space for the caliphate to frame. All through the late 90s and into 2001, Al-Qaeda occupied with progressively lethal and complex attacks against the United States. These exercises finished in the assaults on 9/11, which brought about a U.S.- Northern Alliance crusade to pulverize Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Since 2001, Al-Qaeda has endured various mishaps and lost a lot of its enrollment. It has additionally moved in its authoritative structure from a brought together and various leveled structure to a more decentralized one, picking to have the partners take part in brutality while AQC gives direction, support, and key course as opposed to overseeing operations (Editors, 2014). The subsidiaries formally take after the belief system of Al-Qaeda, yet they have their own neighborhood objectives that they are attempting to accomplish. The following is a short rundown of the more outstanding subsidiaries:

  1. Al-Qaeda in Yemen
  2. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
  3. Al-Qaeda in South Asia
  4. Jabhat al-Nusra
  5. Al-Shabaab
  6. Al-Qaeda in Iraq

On the other hand, ISIS is a violent jihadist group, founded in 2004, that has developed from an extremist group and uprising to a proto-state in bits of Iraq and Syria. ISIL began from the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the Al-Qaeda partner in Iraq which was working since the U.S. invasion in 2003. After a fizzled endeavor to consolidate the ISI with Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS chose to go without anyone else and start operations in both Iraq and Syria. In 2014, ISIS formally isolated from Al-Qaeda and turned into its own group after a power struggle between the two organizations. From that point forward it has quickly extended its region in Syria and Iraq. Its achievement in Syria originates from a taking area that other revolutionary groups had just caught from the Syrian government (Lister, 2016). In Iraq, it has utilized the grievances that Sunnis have against the Shia government (which underestimated and mistreated the Sunni after the American withdrawal) to accumulate bolster. A good measure of their participation and initiative in Iraq originates from other existing Sunni local armies and previous individuals from Saddam Hussein’s legislature.

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Organizational Structure

Al-Qaeda leadership comprises of close lieutenants of Osama Bin Laden, and the authority stays hidden. ISIS is driven by aggregate authority, which is less undercover. Al-Qaeda administration puts stock in moving genuine followers of Islam to fight the West and its culture through religious teachings. ISIS initiative urges Muslims in straightforward dialects to battle non-Muslims with the goal of setting up Caliphate administer everywhere throughout the world (Lister, 2016). Things have changed amid and after the 2003 United States-lead attack of Iraq and a few sociopolitical crises in the Arab World, particularly the Arab Spring that started in 2010. Unsteadiness had spread over a few states in the Middle East. The administrations were shaky in this time of sociopolitical powerlessness, ISIS depended on fabricating its fortification Iraq and Syria as well as in different nations influenced by the Arab Spring. ISIS was forcefully extending crosswise over Iraq and Syria around 2013. The US government hauled out greater part of its powers from Iraq in 2011. This gave ISIS a superior footing. In June 2014, the gathering assumed control over the Iraqi city of Mosul—an occurrence that got the world unsuspecting.

ISIS has its headquarters in Raqqa, Syria. The leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has 8 lieutenants under him who perform specific duties. The organization is divided into 6 regions, each governed by a leader who directly answerable to the ‘Caliph’. The rise of ISIS threatens the presence of Al-Qaeda. Despite the fact that it had a bad beginning, it has effectively advanced into a complex group equipped for presenting and keeping up a similarity of statehood and administration over its regions in Iraq and Syria through organization. ISIS has obviously turned out to be inflexibly organized not at all like the roaming style of Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists. Aside from its furnished military group, basic to the operation of ISIS is the foundation of a few social organizations, strikingly its own monetary action, a very much oiled media and attention arm, and a stage for sociopolitical advancement. The group has kept up specialist and independence for the most part through resource preparations and offers of oil and water holds.


As far as ideology is concerned, ISIS depend on the idea of takfirism (the concept of misrepresenting Muslims as terrorists) while Al-Qaeda generally clung all the more intently to an extremist form. Al-Qaeda basically puts stock in a kind of cautious Jihad announced against western culture, fundamentally US political culture which they accept is altogether hostile to the Islamic world, and sees it as a risk to Islamic world. ISIS and Al-Qaeda are radical jihadists groups whose causes lie in the “Jalalabad School” of Jihadist thought (Bloom, 2016). ISIS was established by Abu Musab Al Zarqawi who initially appeared in Iraq and setup an Al-Qaeda establishment there amid the American control of the nation. Nevertheless, he was so extraordinary, especially in his disdain for Shia Muslims that Al-Qaeda everything except repudiated him. This was on account of his fierce activities in Iraq nauseated even bad-to-the-bone jihadists.

While the two groups tend to share much as far as their contempt for those they consider degenerates, crusaders and so on., Al-Qaeda was customarily not inspired by building up a caliphate but rather more centered around attacking the US and its “taghut” Muslim partners. Conversely, ISIS tries to re-build up the caliphate and turn into the main real Islamic state on the planet. They also, in any event in their publicity, wish to satisfy certain Islamic predictions managing the finish of times by drawing in Western powers in Syria. Al-Qaeda believes that each evident follower of Islam must approach the West as an enemy and shield Islam from its bad influence. It is another issue that no demonstration of the organization appears to be guarded. Al-Qaeda doesn’t have faith in persuasively building up caliphate, rather needs to abandon it upon accord among Islamic theological schools. ISIS then again trusts that each Muslim must think of it as a hallowed obligation to contribute in the furnished battle to persuasively building up Caliphate for the whole Muslim world. ISIS is more medieval in standpoint than Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda by and large does not separate between Muslims. ISIS champions the causes for radical Sunni Islam.

Attack Targets

Al-Qaeda’s main enemy is the US and its western partners in Europe, and India because of essence of many Muslims in the subcontinent. A large number of the objectives of Al-Qaeda have been western nations to impart fear among the general population of US and Europe. Al-Qaeda has been more strategic in assaults, and has never offered prominence to wanton mass killings, torture, beheadings, trafficking etc. (Soufan, A. (2017). In any case, ISIS basically puts stock in mass slaughtering, torture, and attack of its enemy, including kids. The saner and direct segment of the Muslim people is considered as munafeqeen or fakers by the Islamic extremist organizations. Al-Qaeda wants to counter those in a peaceful manner. Nevertheless, ISIS has zero-resilience for those direct Muslims and doesn’t waver to dispense comparable mercilessness to those kindred Muslims too.

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Because of its diverse needs, ISIS seeks after another arrangement of systems to accomplish its goals. As opposed to Al-Qaeda, its principle target isn’t the “West” but instead Shi’a and different religious minorities and in addition “renegade” Sunnis in the Arab world. Looking to control arrive, unite, and extend by utilizing its armed force to vanquish more an area, it applies techniques for regular fighting when clearing into new territories or protecting existing property. Suicide bombings are utilized as a major aspect of these fighting strategies to undermine resolve in the security powers.


As far as subsidizing, Al-Qaeda’s center has been generally dependent on donor financing, though ISIS is more dependent on unlawful activities, for example, offering oil on the black market. However, now ISIS is starting to attract gifts because of their prosperity. Specialists say ISIS attracts $1 to $2 million every day. Osama Bin Laden himself was the essential benefactor of Al-Qaeda, aside from various rich business head honchos of Saudi Arabia, and center east. Though ISIS has various money-making plans like unlawful offer of oil, blackmail, and medication trafficking, they are still funded by tycoons and business magnates in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries (Wright, 2016). Illegal sale of oil and gas is also a major source of income for terrorist activities. While many other jihadist groups have failed to make another caliphate, ISIS is the first to really do. From numerous points of view they act like some other government. They tax people, give public services (though ineffectively) but they do not print their own money. They are likewise trying to bring the same number of Muslims from around the globe to their domain to help construct this new caliphate. From various perspectives, ISIS is additionally similar to the Taliban pre-2001. They are greatly brutal to their “nationals”, captured fighters and prisoners, and any individual that they don’t consider to be a ‘real Muslim’. They constantly lead new and terrible intends to execute individuals and have effectively energized attack of women and girls that they capture as ‘spoils of war’.

Military and Operational Capability

ISIS has the capacity to secure current military gear subsequent to overwhelming both the Syrian and Iraqi national armed forces. A great part of the hardware that was ravaged from the Iraqi Army was given by the American military amid Iraq’s remaking exertion. The weapons that ISIS as of now has incorporated light arms, different sorts of artillery, and hostile to tank and against air ship rockets. Moreover ISIS has substantial arms and the propelled advances normally discovered just in consistent national armed forces: fire power, tanks and defensively covered vehicles, bear discharged hostile to flying machine rockets and automatons (Wright, 2016). It has utilized mustard gas various circumstances in Syria and Iraq and may have different sorts of synthetic weapons, for example, chlorine gas.”

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Unlike Al-Qaeda’s loose network of affiliates, ISIS works as an organized establishment with a characterized control structure. Its fundamental regions of operations, Iraq and Syria, can possibly decline into failed states. ISIS has possessed the capacity to set up managerial systems and give fundamental social administrations in regions where the foundation has totally crumpled. These systems incorporate instruction, legal, and law requirement. ISIS leadership is masterminded like that of a state government (Fishman, 2016). The Al-Qaeda training program gives guide direction to leading operations in secret. Al-Qaeda has possessed the capacity to effectively execute this reasoning implying that it has been powerful in collecting uninvolved help along these lines reinforcing the contention that it is a system instead of an organized group. The training manual emphasizes the significance of the bases being in urban communities in contrast with mountains flagging that the group clings to a more modern model of terrorism. Unlike Al-Qaeda, ISIS is fighting in more regular way with armed force troops. They have caught many parts of Syria and Iraq, however current sources say that Iraq and a few sections of Syria has freed of ISIS activists. They have additionally raised dangers and notices for North Africa and the Middle East.

Treatment of Women

Islam is known to treat women as subordinates. Islamic governments have, over the years, limited the rights of women in various facets of life. Islamic radical groups fortify this reasoning as well as amplify it. Notwithstanding, even in Al-Qaeda and ISIS, there is distinction on how women are seen. Al-Qaeda appears to take the more direct perspective of the two. Despite the fact that women in Al-Qaeda are used in terrorist activities, they are still underestimated to supporting roles. Al-Qaeda believes that the female jihad includes supporting male relatives, indoctrinating kids in the belief system, offering help for operations, and helping with financing. While there have been indications of movement in regards to the status of women in Al-Qaeda, ISIS sees women with absolute carelessness. ISIS doesn’t consider women to be individuals yet rather belonging. As indicated by the Human Rights Watch, ISIS has established an arrangement of sorted out assault and rape, sexual servitude, and constrained marriage against women. ISIS leaders have been accused of abusing women and regarding them as the “spoils of war” and asserting that forced sex with Non-Muslim women is legal.


ISIS swore loyalty to Bin Laden in 2006. While under the worldwide system of Al-Qaeda, the gathering was in charge of building an uprising group in Iraq by converging with different radicals and controlling the stream of assets. At this point, eyewitnesses from the universal group called the gathering as the Al-Qaeda in Iraq. However, this incorporation in the Al-Qaeda network featured the distinction between the two groups. It is essential to note that members of the Al-Qaeda were veterans who prepared and battled in Afghanistan amid the 1990s. In the meantime, the developing ISIS or Al-Qaeda in Iraq was at first populated by contenders who grew up amid the sociopolitical emergency in Iraq and Syria. This generational gap implies ISIS has a more modern approach than Al-Qaeda. This is apparent from the broad utilization of the Internet and online networking to disperse jihadist purposeful publicity.

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The strategic network of ISIS is also a prominent feature of the organization. Despite being under the worldwide Al-Qaeda network, ISIS pioneers kept up a position that repudiated the determination of Osama Bin Laden. Even though the two groups needed to advance solidarity in the Muslim World, the two had diverse belief systems that make particular methodologies for doing as such (Holbrook, 2015). For ISIS, the best way to join the Muslims over the world is to cleanse the whole group by destruction allied Muslims who are unaligned with religious and sociopolitical belief systems of the group. Nonetheless, Al-Qaeda kept up that these unaligned Muslims were not the issue. Or maybe, it is the renegade foundations in Muslim nations and the Western sociopolitical clout that ought to be destroyed.

While Al-Qaeda created and actualized an outward-looking technique that included destabilizing the West and building a solid group with the Muslim people group before making a caliphate, ISIS created and executed an internal looking system fixated on setting up an express that advances a strict usage of Sharia Law. Along these lines, not at all like Al-Qaeda, ISIS concentrated on extending its outfitted abilities to grow its domains around Iraq and Syria. In June 2014, the group acquainted itself with the world in the wake of capturing Mosul, the biggest city in Iraq.

Use of Media

The ISIS is known to use the media to instill fear among the people. ISIS carries out beheadings in camera and uses Twitter accounts for recruitment and indoctrination purposes. Unlike Al-Qaeda, the ISIS is the most brutal terror organization that uses the media to attract young people, even from Western nations (Wright, 2016). The main difference between ISIS and Al-Qaeda that should be a key factor in counter narrative methodologies concerns their definitive points. While Al-Qaeda depicts itself principally as a terror group—a secret group of specific fighters and operational driving forces—ISIS’s account draws on the talks of state  building and administration, with a more settled objective of making and dealing with an Utopian state and calling for specialists, cleaners, and others to contribute in their own particular limits. Late reports even recommend ISIS is conveying food help to Syrian asylums, stamping its logo on World Food Program supplies.

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The similarities between ISIS and Al-Qaeda are based on the desire to propel the doctrinal enthusiasm of Islam and the Muslim people group. Both have faith in the utilization of violent methodologies to propel their motivation. The two groups believe that they should propel their own particular image of Islam crosswise over built up Muslim people group and the world (Holbrook, 2015). Obviously, not all Muslims consent to these belief systems. On the other hand, the difference between ISIS and Al-Qaeda is based on their level of advancement. The Islamic State is further developed and imaginative than Al-Qaeda regarding their belief systems and methodologies. Note that ISIS needs to propel its own image of Islam by cleansing the Muslim people group of what the group considers as unclean. This is imaginative because it does far from the standard outward hostile to Western approach of jihadist developments, for example, Al-Qaeda (Wright, 2016). It is vital to feature the way that ISIS likewise takes after an outward approach. In any case, the group does this by bracing its inner issues. From their internal way to deal with Islamisation given their refined hierarchical structure, it is clear that the Islamic State realizes that they have to harden their inner undertakings and abilities to continue their fight against the West.

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  1. Bloom, M. (2016). Constructing Expertise: Terrorist Recruitment and “Talent Spotting” in the PIRA, Al Qaeda, and ISIS. Studies In Conflict & Terrorism40(7), 603-623. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1057610x.2016.1237219
  2. Byman, D. (2015). Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press.
  3. Editors, C. (2014). Al-Qaeda: The History of the World’s Most Notorious Terrorist Organization. CreateSpace Independent Publishing.
  4. Fishman, B. (2016). The Master Plan: ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory. Yale University Press.
  5. Holbrook, D. (2015). Al-Qaeda and the Rise of ISIS. Survival57(2), 93-104. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2015.1026070
  6. Lister, C. (2016). The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency. Oxford University Press.
  7. Lister, T. (2017). How ISIS is overshadowing al QaedaCNN. Retrieved 14 November 2017, from http://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/30/world/meast/isis-overshadows-al-qaeda/index.html
  8. Soufan, A. (2017). Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State. W. W. Norton & Company.
  9. Syria. (2017). Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 14 November 2017, from https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/syria
  10. Wright, L. (2016). The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
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