With every new act of stunning savagery in the name of Islam that takes place in some corner of the world, a new terrorist group seems to step into the spotlight.
From Al Qaeda's sudden ascendance in the 1990s, to the recent rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in Iraq, new factions are springing up throughout the world, spreading the twisted message of violence and hate in the name of Allah. Most trace their roots to the terror group founded by Usama bin Laden, but have spun off, and fanned out around the world putting their own stamps on the indiscriminate brutality that is the trademark of terrorism.
"The trend is one of decentralization -- smaller Al Qaeda affiliates charting their own courses," said Ryan Mauro, national security analyst for the research institute The Clarion Project. "If groups like ISIS are seen as more successful, the aspiring jihadists will view them as being blessed by Allah and rally to them. Success is seen as evidence of Allah's approval, and defeat is seen as Allah's distancing, or even judgment."
"If groups like ISIS are seen as more successful, the aspiring jihadists will view them as being blessed by Allah and rally to them."
- Ryan Mauro, The Clarion Project
For now, ISIS, with a huge swath of conquered territory, hundreds of millions of dollars looted from Iraqi banks and a leader -- Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi -- who has pronounced himself the "Caliph" of Muslims around the world, is in position to challenge Al Qaeda for status as the most powerful terror group on the planet. That makes it a magnet for new recruits and donations, said Mauro. One chilling act could cement its role.
"If ISIS wants to overtake Al Qaeda to become the leading Salafist terror group, then it must replicate Al Qaeda's greatest achievement: Striking the U.S," Mauro said. "Once that happens, Al Qaeda supporters will switch to ISIS in droves unless the two reconcile."
Boko Haram was founded in in 2002 in Nigeria's Borno State, where it campaigned, mostly peacefully, for a Shariah state. But in 2009, after founder Mohammed Yusef was executed in Nigeria, Boko Haram took a violent turn, embracing terrorism, forcing conversions of Christians, and orchestrating kidnappings and bombings. In recent years, Boko Haram has emerged as one of the world's most dangerous and violent Islamic terrorist sects, culminating in April's kidnapping of nearly 300 Christian schoolgirls.
Here are some other Islamic terrorist groups operating around the world and waiting to fill any void that should be left by their more high-profile counterparts.
This extremist Islamic group -- whose name means “The Youth” in Arabic -- was forged in the years of anarchy that engulfed Somalia after warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre in 1991. Inspired by a Saudi-style Wahabi version of Islam, Al Shabaab now numbers an estimated 7,000-9,000 fighters. It controlled Mogadishu, and briefly aligned Al Qaeda in 2012 in a bid to impose Shariah law on Somalia's urban centers, but infighting over tactics doomed the deadly union.
Now based in Kenya and Somalia's rural areas, Al Shabaab is on the run, but still deadly. In June, Al Shabaab fighters 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.”
The deadly terror sect also was responsible in September 2013 for the infamous attack at the Westgate Shopping Center in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, where 67 people were killed and more than 175 wounded. The group has publicly vowed to carry out terror attacks in Kenya in response to that country’s military actions in Somalia, and appears to be making another move into the Somali capital.
Earlier this week, Al Shabaab militants attacked the palace of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in Mogadishu, and entered the heavily fortified compound before government forces killed the militants. That followed a suicide car bombing on Saturday near the capital's parliament building that killed at least four people.
The Jemaah Islamiyah has been active in several Southeast Asian countries since 1993 and is rooted in Darul Islam -- a violent radical movement that seeks to establish strict Islamic law in Indonesia. Early on, the JI -- as it is known-- was against violence but shifted toward terrorist actions in the late 1990s after forming links with Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan.
The JI is responsible for numerous attacks across the region over the years, including a bombing of a Bali nightclub in October 2002 in which 202 people, most of whom were innocent tourists from Australia and other points, were killed.
The Uighur are a Muslim people concentrated in the northwestern Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang, in northwest China. While many of them have protested against being under the rule of the People’s Republic of China, a separatist movement has been growing among the population.
The Uighur Separatists made their dangerous presence known last March in the Chinese city of Kunming, when members descended upon a rail station with an assortment of blades and slashed more than 150 innocent people, leaving 29 dead in the attack. In May, Uighurs were blamed for a suicide bombing that killed 39 people at a market in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi.
Uighurs have carried out several smaller attacks in the region, and China has responded with a crackdown that included a ban on fasting for Ramadan.
Experts cannot say if there is a defined, violent Uighur group that has formed, but the recent attack, coupled with the group's goal of carving out a state it calls East Turkistan, has put the Uighur Separatists on the radar of terrorism watchers. In China, where Islamic terrorism was virtually unknown until recent years, the Uighurs are known as “Kong bu fen zi,” or “those who frighten.”
The Abu Sayyaf terrorist group was established in 1991 in the Philippines and is a violent and powerful arm of the nation’s longstanding, anti-government Moro insurgency.
It is believed that the extremist group was trained by and received funding from Al Qaeda in the 1990s, and since then has been responsible for some of the largest terrorist attacks in the small nation. In 2004, the extremists bombed a ferry sailing from Manila, killing 116 people.
The group is also responsible for numerous bombings and kidnappings of Western tourists and expats since 2000.
Known as “devils on horseback” in the blood-soaked Darfur region of Sudan, Janjaweed is a terrorist group that operates with the official backing to the corrupt and Islamist Sudanese government. Nomadic Arabs with links to the late Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, the Janjaweed were formed from various tribes in the Darfur region who fought with farmers over land.
But they are at war with various Darfur rebel groups, and with the backing of Khartoum, have played a bloody role in the genocide that has plagued Darfur for more than a decade. Arab nationalists, they have been instrumental in Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir's bid to drive Christians from the country.
Janjaweed was ordered disbanded by the UN Security Council, but it never happened. Nearly a decade later, the Janjaweed has launched a full offensive on the region, and re-branded as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
The first six months of 2014 has seen a rise in genocide, leading to this year being on par and even surpass the height of genocide in the region that took place between 2003-2005. Now, as an official uniformed force for the Sudanese government, the Janjaweed has laid waste to various villages in the region while raping women, killing civilians and destroying refugee camps.