From the Middle East to Russia, and from Africa to Asia, the bloody tide of jihad is rising as increasingly fragmented terror groups battle governments and each other for power and property.
Daily reports of the terror group Islamic States of Iraq and Syria/Levant, or ISIS, advancing toward a caliphate in Iraq have supplanted equally horrific news from Nigeria, where Boko Haram slaughtered schoolboys and kidnapped girls to sell into slavery. All the while, terror attacks in the name of Islam have continued in China, where members of the Islamic sect known as Uighurs are suspected of mass stabbing attacks, and Kenya, where the Muslim terrorist group al-Shabaab murdered 48 people a week ago.
"It is metastasizing worldwide because we are seeing radical Islam and groups organized across the world feeling empowered to bring back and resurrect an Islamic caliphate and establish Islam as they see it in their own eyes as it was practiced in the days of Muhammad," said Brigitte Gabriel, founder of Act! for America, and author of "They Must be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam and How We Can Do It."
"It’s really about power - everyone wants a payday.”
- Kamran Bokhari, Stratfor
Many of the attacks are from Al Qaeda splinter groups or loose affiliates seeking to spread the message of Shariah law and hatred of the West. What the terrorism hierarchy loses in central coordination, it more than makes up for in global reach.
“People splinter off and create their own factions, like ISIS,” said Kamran Bokhari, vice president of Middle Eastern and South Asian Affairs for geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor, and author of “Political Islam in the Age of Democratization." "It’s really about power -- everyone wants a payday.”
Recent months have seen extremists Boko Haram and ISIS on the attack, seemingly one-upping one another in terms of brutality. Both of those groups reportedly broke ties with Al Qaeda, in part because their tactics were too extreme even for the terror organization that launched the 9/11 attacks.
ISIS, which shares the goal of toppling Iraq's government with Sunni fighters, has reportedly alienated its brothers in arms with it sheer viciousness. Decapitating government soldiers, shooting Christians point blank and implementing strict Shariah law in conquered territory, the group seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate in the historic region known as the Levant. They have taken over the major Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, and are bent on capturing the Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf and the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Boko Haram has proven equally atrocious, incinerating young boys after locking them in a school and kidnapping young Christian girls and forcing them to convert to Islam. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has said the group is responsible for killing 12,000 and leaving another 8,000 permanently injured. More than 200 schoolgirls remain missing after being kidnapped in April, and on Monday, local reports said it had seized 60 women and girls, as well as more than 30 boys in villages in Borno State, in the nation's northeast.
Earlier this month, Boko Haram was blamed for killing hundreds of people in a massacre in northeastern Nigeria along the border with Cameroon, and deadly car bombs have frequently rocked the Nigerian capital of Abuja in recent months.
Other Islamic terrorist groups have been actively killing in the name of Allah this year. On Sunday, members of Somalia-based Al Qaeda offshoot al-Shabaab stormed the Kenyan village of Mpeketoni, about 60 miles from the Somali border and murdered 48 people. The extremists went door to door and asked residents if they were Muslim or spoke Somali before shooting those who answered “no.”
Al-Shabaab has vowed to carry out terror attacks in Kenya in response to the country’s military actions in Somalia, and was responsible for the infamous attack at the Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi in September 2013, when at least 67 people were killed and more than 175 wounded.
Much like last week’s village attack, victims were vetted to see if they were Muslim or of another religious faith.
Last March, in the Chinese city of Kunming, Uighur separatists descended upon a rail station with an assortment of blades and slashed more than 150 innocent people, leaving 29 dead in the attack. The Uighurs are a Muslim people concentrated in the northwest region of China. While representatives of the group condemned the attack, many of them have griped about being under Chinese rule and a lack of access to jobs and education.
"The number of victims is trending higher, but what's also different is the type of attention the terrorists are receiving," said Glen Roberts, the pseudonym for the operator of TheReligionofPeace.com, a blog that posts a daily tally of atrocities committed in the name of Islam. "With the United States effectively out of Iraq -- and never having been in Nigeria -- the usual distractions aren't there. The true religious and sectarian motives are becoming more difficult for the pundits to ignore."
Bokhari said one possible explanation for the rise of an already violent brand of religious extremism is the so-called Arab Spring. Initially embraced as a movement to oust dictators and usher in an age of democracy, it instead created instability and power vacuums in many nations with sizable populations of radical Muslim fundamentalists.
“There is this fragmentation of states, so there’s a vacuum where non-state entities are able to exploit an opportunity,” he said. “Many of these groups are taking advantage.”