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Rival Jihadists: Al Qaeda v ISIS

By Cameron Glenn

Al Qaeda and ISIS are violent extremist groups who share a hardline Islamist ideology, but differ in their approach to achieve similar goals. The following is a 3-part series comparing the origins, structure, and strategy of the two groups.

Part 1: Origins and Global Reach

Part 2: Leadership and Structure

Part 3: Ideology and Strategy

Al Qaida leader al-Zawahiri takes aim at a mortal enemy in an angry speech and it’s not the US

— Yahoo News (@YahooNews) September 10, 2015

Part 1: Origins and Global Reach

Al Qaeda and ISIS – also known as ISIL, the Islamic State, or Daesh (in Arabic) – are both violent extremist groups propagating a hardline Islamist ideology. But they are rivals who differ in their strategy to achieve the same objectives. For more than two decades, al Qaeda was the dominant worldwide jihadist organization. In 2014, it began to face a challenge from ISIS, which declared the creation of an Islamic State after seizing large swaths of Iraq and Syria. ISIS quickly achieved what had been al Qaeda’s longtime goal – establishing a global caliphate. 

Al Qaeda emerged from networks of jihadist fighters who flocked to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. Al Qaeda seeks to establish a caliphate, but only as a long-term goal. Its strategy has focused on high-profile attacks against Western targets rather than conquering territory. “If our state is not supported by the proper foundations…the enemy will easily destroy it,” former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden wrote in 2010.

ISIS emerged from the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq, but severed ties with al Qaeda in 2014 as it captured territory. ISIS has conducted brutal sectarian attacks and, unlike al Qaeda, actively seeks to conquer and rule territory.  A 2014 ISIS publication claimed the group is “now opposed by the present leadership of famous jihad groups who have become frozen in the [attack] phase…considering the attainment of power to be taboo or destructive.”

Both al Qaeda and ISIS have global franchises that extend across Asia and Africa. Several jihadist groups began declaring allegiance to ISIS in 2014, while others reaffirmed their support for al Qaeda. With the rise of ISIS, the affiliations are not always straightforward. Some members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – one of al Qaeda’s strongest branches – have expressed support for ISIS. The two are battling for dominance of the global jihadist movement. 


Osama bin Laden formed al Qaeda in the late 1980s from jihadist groups based in Central Asia. It was held responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and the September 11 bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. After the 9/11 attacks, U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan, weakening al Qaeda by capturing and killing many of its core members. By 2013, U.S. officials estimated that only 50-100 al Qaeda members remained in Afghanistan. 

During the 2000s, al Qaeda evolved into a vast network of formal affiliates and informal allies. One of the affiliates was al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of ISIS. It was founded in 2004 under Abu Musab al Zarqawi. It was rebranded as the Islamic State in Iraq in 2006. The surge of U.S. troops in Iraq in 2007 drove the group from its strongholds; many of its core members were killed or imprisoned.  

In 2011, al Qaeda faced a major setback with the death of Osama bin Laden. Ayman al Zawahiri took over the group’s leadership. At the same time, the Islamic State of Iraq took advantage of the growing unrest in Syria by dispatching fighters to Idlib, Aleppo, and Deir Ezzor. 

The Islamic State of Iraq changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2013 and began capturing Iraqi territory. By January 2014, the group had established a de facto capital in Raqqa, Syria.  

Tensions were steadily mounting between ISIS and al Qaeda. ISIS leaders repeatedly ignored commands and authority from al Qaeda’s core leadership. In February 2014, al Qaeda leader Zawahiri officially severed ties with ISIS. “ISIS isn’t a branch of al Qaeda and we have no organizational relationship with it,” Zawahiri said. “Nor is al Qaeda responsible for its actions and behavior.” In Syria, the tensions played out on the battlefield. In 2013, ISIS had begun began battling the Nusra Front – al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria – for dominance. By March 2014, over 3,000 fighters had been killed in battles between ISIS and the Nusra Front. 

In June 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi formally proclaimed the Islamic State carved out of northern Syria and Iraq. It stretched from Aleppo in Syria to Diyala in Iraq. ISIS established a basic bureaucracy in its territories, with institutions based on its hardline interpretation of Islam.  

Although the two groups reportedly considered joining forces in late 2014, Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al Julani emphasized in 2015 that the groups remained at odds with no immediate plans to reconcile. In a recording released in September 2015, Zawahiri reiterated that he considered the ISIS caliphate illegitimate. But he also called for cooperation between al Qaeda and ISIS "to push back the attack of the enemies of Islam."

Global Reach 

Al Qaeda: Between 10,000 and 20,000  jihadists have been trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan since the 1980s, but thousands of fighters have been killed or captured since the United States ramped up counterterrorism operations against the group in the 2000s. But the number of active al Qaeda followers today is difficult to quantify.

The group established a number of regional affiliates in the 2000s. The affiliates, over whom Zawahiri claims authority, include

  • Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, with around 1,000 fighters  
  • Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, based in Algeria, with less than 1,000 members 
  • Al Shabaab, based in Somalia, with at least 2,000 fighters  
  • The Nusra Front, based in Syria, with at least 5,000 fighters  
  • Jamaah Islamiyah, based in Indonesia, with fewer than 400 fighters 
  • Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, based in India, with around 300 fighters 

Other small jihadist groups have been inspired by al Qaeda’s ideology since 2001, but not all are formally affiliated. At least 45 jihadist groups worldwide – 32 of which have only been active since 2001 – have some degree of coordination with al Qaeda, according to IntelCenter

ISIS:  ISIS membership has grown rapidly since 2011, and in late 2014 the Central Intelligence Agency estimated that ISIS had up to 31,500 fighters. By January 2015, roughly 20,000 of these fighters were thought to have originated from outside Iraq and Syria. 

In 2014, a handful of jihadist groups around the world began aligning with ISIS. By mid-2015, more than 30 jihadist groups had either pledged allegiance to ISIS or declared support for it. These groups included:  

  • Ansar Beit al Maqdis, based in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula 
  • The Shura Council of Islamic Youth, based in eastern Libya 
  • Jund al Khilafah, an AQIM splinter group based in Algeria 
  • Khorasan Province, based in Afghanistan and Pakistan under the leadership of former Taliban commander Hafiz Said Khan 
  • Boko Haram, based in Nigeria, with around 9,000 fighters 
  • Sanaa Province, based in Yemen 

Smaller groups in Jordan, the Caucuses, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Nigeria have also expressed support for ISIS, but Baghdadi has not declared all of them formal ISIS provinces. Some groups, like Boko Haram and Ansar Beit al Maqdis, are known to have collaborated with al Qaeda in the past, before aligning with ISIS.


Part 2: Leadership and Structure


Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden used charisma, fatwas and rhetoric to rally jihadists around the world. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi has been a mysterious figure who rarely appeared in public after ISIS announced its caliphate in 2014. ISIS has used ruthless violence to exert power.

Al Qaeda


Ayman al Zawahiri

Image removed.Zawahiri was born in Cairo in 1951 to a middle class Egyptian family. He was trained as a doctor, but became active in Islamist groups during his teenage years. In 1973, he joined Islamic Jihad, an armed jihadist group calling for the overthrow of the Egyptian government. In 1981, he was imprisoned in connection with the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar al Sadat. He left Egypt for Pakistan in 1985 to help jihadists fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan. In 1998, he joined forces with Osama bin Laden.  

Zawahiri became al Qaeda’s main ideologue and most prominent spokesperson throughout the 2000s. He took over the leadership of al Qaeda in 2011, after bin Laden was killed. 

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi

Baghdadi was born in Samarra in 1971. He reportedly received jihadist training in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, when he lived with Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Kabul. He fought with jihadists in Fallujah in the early 2000s after returning to Iraq, and was reportedly held at the U.S. detention facility Camp Bucca from February to December 2004. In 2010 he assumed leadership of ISIS, then called the Islamic State of Iraq. Little else is known of his background, but jihadist publications claim that he is from a religious family descended from noble tribes, and that he holds a PhD from Baghdad’s Islamic University.  

Baghdadi is known for avoiding the spotlight. There are only two known photos of him, and he reportedly conceals his identity with a bandanna from everyone outside his small inner circle.  



Al Qaeda does not directly manage the daily operations of its franchies. ISIS, however, claims to have direct control over the fighters and residents in its territory.

Al Qaeda


Unlike ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, Zawahiri does not claim to have direct hierarchical control over al Qaeda’s vast, networked structure. Al Qaeda’s core leadership seeks to centralize the organization’s messaging and strategy rather than to manage the daily operations of its franchises.  But formal affiliates are required to consult with al Qaeda’s core leadership before carrying out large-scale attacks.

Al Qaeda’s core leadership includes a shura council, as well as committees for military operations, finance, and information sharing. Al Qaeda leaders communicate with affiliated groups through their respective information committees.


Other key figures

Nasser al Wuhayshi, leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and second-in-command in al Qaeda’s core leadership. Wuhayshi was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike in June 2015, and replaced by Qasim al Raymi.

Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, head of the Nusra Front in Syria and former member of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Mansoor al Harbi, a key trainer and logistician based in Afghanistan. The Saudi press reported in 2015 that he had been killed by a U.S. airstrike.

Farouq al Qahtani al Qatari, a commander based in the Kunar province of Afghanistan.

Khalid al Habib, a field commander in southeast Afghanistan.

Baghdadi is the supreme political and religious leader in ISIS territory. The caliph has virtually unchecked authority, but in practice he relies on deputies like Abu Muslim al Turkemani, who oversees ISIS areas in Iraq, to manage administration of its territory. The Islamic State has a Shura Council that can theoretically depose the caliph, but all members are appointed by Baghdadi. 

ISIS leadership has direct command and control over its fighters in Iraq and Syria, though its ability to direct its affiliates abroad is unclear. In March 2015, ISIS affiliates claimed responsibility for the Bardo Museum attacks in Tunis and the mosque attacks in Yemen, but U.S. officials were skeptical of the extent to which the attacks were coordinated by ISIS leadership in Iraq and Syria. 

The upper echelon of ISIS leadership includes Baghdadi’s advisers, his deputies for overseeing operations in Iraq and Syria, and the shura council – which technically has the authority to depose Baghdadi.  ISIS also has a sharia council, as well as councils responsible for security, military affairs, media, and finance.

Other key figures

Abu Muslim al Turkemani, also known as Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali Baghdadi’s deputy who oversaw operations in Iraq. He was reportedly killed by a U.S. strike in 2014.

Abu Ali al Anbari, Baghdadi’s deputy who oversees operations in Syria.

Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, official spokesman for ISIS.

Abu Arkan al Ameri, head of ISIS’s 10-member shura council.

Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al Qaduli, a senior leader and former deputy of Zarqawi in al Qaeda in Iraq. 

Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, a senior commander based in Syria and member of the shura council.

The anatomy of ISIS: How the 'Islamic State' is run, from oil to beheadings:

— CNN (@CNN) September 18, 2014

The Caliphate

Al Qaeda views the formation of a global caliphate as a long-term goal, while ISIS announced it had reached that goal in June 2014. 

Al Qaeda


“Today, with the grace of Allah, we are redrawing the map of the Islamic world to become one state under the banner of the caliphate.”– A 2001 video from bin Laden, reposted by followers in 2014; via Long War Journal 

“It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet in the heart of the Islamic world.”–Ayman al Zawahiri’s 2005 letter to Abu Musab al Zarqawi

“…the Jihad in Iraq requires several incremental goals: The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq. The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate over as much territory as you can spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas. . . .The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq. The fourth stage:…[This is] the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity. . . . [T]heir ongoing mission is to establish an Islamic state, and defend it.”–Ayman al Zawahiri’s 2005 letter to Abu Musab al Zarqawi

“Those who move from east to west, claiming that they want to establish God’s sharia but do not want to establish the prerequisites and pillars...are ignorant and unaware of the Prophet’s doctrine.”– A 2001 video from bin Laden, reposted by followers in 2014; via Long War Journal 

“If our state is not supported by the proper foundations…the enemy will easily destroy it.”– A 2010 letter from bin Laden; viaSite Intelligence Group

Forming a caliphate is impossible if “our image is that of dominator, someone who usurps the rights of others, and an attacker.”– A statement by Zawahiri in 2014, referencing ISIS; via Site Intelligence Group

In practice:

Both bin Laden and Zawahiri advocated a caliphate in principle. But experts believe that al Qaeda has used the idea as a motivational tool rather than as an immediate objective. In the early 2000s, al Qaeda affiliates proposed establishing caliphates in Yemen and Iraq, but bin Laden cautioned that it was not the right time and that such attempts would likely fail.

Al Qaeda leaders have repeatedly emphasized that four conditions must be met before declaring a caliphate. In 2005, Zawahiri wrote that the first requirement is to “expel the Americans from Iraq.”  

As of mid-2015, al Qaeda had not attempted to capture land to form a state. Its operatives established bases in Afghanistan, Yemen, and other countries, but have generally not attempted to govern.  

“By Allah’s grace – you have a state and Khilafah, which will return your dignity, might, rights, and leadership. It is a state where the Arab and non-Arab, the white man and black man, the easterner and westerner are all brothers…Their blood mixed and became one, under a single flag and goal, in one pavilion, enjoying this blessing, the blessing of faithful brotherhood.”  - Speechby ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi

“These phases [of establishing a caliphate] consist of immigrating to a land with a weak central authority to use as a base where a jama’ah can form, recruit members, and train them...The jama’ah would then take advantage of the situation by increasing the chaos…The next step would be to fill the vacuum by managing the state of affairs to the point of developing into a full-fledged state, and continuing expansion into territory...This has always been the roadmap towards Khilafah (caliphate) for the mujahidin.” 

“Sadly, [the mujahidin] are now opposed by the present leadership of famous jihad groups who have become frozen in the phase of nikayah (injury) attacks, almost considering the attainment of power to be taboo or destructive.”– Issue #1 of ISIS’s “Dabiq” magazineJuly 2014

In practice:

In June 2014, a few months after severing ties with al Qaeda, ISIS declared a caliphate in areas seized from Iraq and Syria.  

In the first issue of ISIS’s “Dabiq” magazine, the group attempted to justify the declaration. The magazine lists a five-step process that, unlike the steps outlined by Zawahiri, focuses on fomenting local chaos rather than expelling foreign troops. The magazine claims that “this has always been the roadmap towards Khilafah (caliphate)” and criticizes “other famous jihad groups” who do not attempt to capture and rule territory. 

ISIS has attempted to govern its territories, establishing court systems, schools, social services, and local governments. Foreign fighters occupy many of the top administrative posts in the bureaucracy. ISIS also doles out harsh punishments, including executions, lashings, and stonings.  


Part 3: Ideology & Strategy

Al Qaeda and ISIS draw on similar schools of thought. Both are inspired by the works of medieval scholar Ibn Taymiyya, 20th century Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb, and later scholars, such as Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, a Palestinian-Jordanian who taught former al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Both groups claim their hardline interpretations are reviving the purity of the faith when it was founded in the seventh century. But most influential jihadist ideologues, including Maqdisi, have remained loyal to al Qaeda. 

ISIS has tried to cultivate its own scholarly resources to boost its profile. ISIS scholars tend to be younger than those loyal to al Qaeda. The 30-year-old Bahraini Turki al Bin’ali is among ISIS’s most prominent scholars. In 2013, he wrote a biography of Baghdadi that claimed Baghdadi was a descendent of the Prophet Mohammed. 

Despite ideological similarities, the two groups differ in strategy on a few key points—on enemies, the use of violence, minorities, and use of the media. 

The West

In their pronouncements, both al Qaeda and ISIS have targeted the West. But al Qaeda places a stronger emphasis on ridding any trace of Western influence from Muslim lands.

Al Qaeda


“The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, ‘and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,’ and ‘fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.’”– Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa against the United States

“We have declared jihad against the US, because in our religion it is our duty to make jihad so that God's word is the one exalted to the heights and so that we drive the Americans away from all Muslim countries.” Statement by Osama bin Laden, 1997

In practice:

Since the 1990s, Al Qaeda has mainly targeted the West, which it accuses of propping up corrupt Arab regimes. According to al Qaeda, a caliphate cannot be established until Western forces are defeated and expelled from Muslim countries. 

“Be very wary of allying with the Jews and Christians, and whoever has slipped by a word, then let him fear Allah, renew his faith, and repent from his deed. […] Even if he supported them just by a single word. He who aligns with them by a single word falls into apostasy– extreme apostasy.” - Issue # 4 of ISIS's “Dabiq” magazine, October 2014

“The world today has been divided into two camps and two trenches, with no third camp present: The camp of Islam and faith, and the camp of kufr (disbelief) and hypocrisy – the camp of the Muslims and the mujahidin everywhere, and the camp of the Jews, the crusaders, their allies, and with them the rest of the nations and religions of kufr, all being led by America and Russia, and being mobilized by the Jews.”  - July 1, 2014, in aspeech by Baghdadi

In practice:

Like al Qaeda, ISIS has a strongly anti-Western worldview. Baghdadi has urged Muslims around the world to rise up and avenge injustices inflicted by the West. ISIS has publicly beheaded Western hostages. But most of its victims have been local.


Both al Qaeda and ISIS denounce Shiites, Christians, and virtually any group that doesn’t share their worldview. But al Qaeda leaders have emphasized that attacking these groups is not the highest priority, while ISIS has carried out mass killings of minorities in its territories.

Al Qaeda


“People of discernment and knowledge among Muslims know the extent of danger to Islam of the 12’er school of Shi’ism. It is a religious school based on excess and falsehood whose function is to accuse the companions of Muhammad of heresy [in] a campaign against Islam, in order to free the way for a group of those who call for a dialogue in the name of the hidden Mahdi who is in control of existence and infallible in what he does. Their prior history in cooperating with the enemies of Islam is consistent with their current reality of connivance with the crusaders.” Zawahiri’s 2005 letter to Abu Musab al Zarqawi  

“As for the sectarian and chauvinistic factor, it is secondary in importance to outside aggression, and is much weaker than it.” - Zawahiri’s 2005 letter to Abu Musab al Zarqawi  

In practice:

Al Qaeda, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims, is vehemently anti-Shiite. But its leaders have emphasized that sectarian warfare is less of a priority than fighting the West.  

“Their creed [of Yazidis] is so deviant from the truth that even cross-worshipping Christians for ages considered them devil worshippers and Satanists.”- Issue # 4 of ISIS's “Dabiq” magazineOctober 2014

"Terrorism is to worship Allah as He ordered you…Terrorism is to insist upon your rights and not give them up...Terrorism does not include the extreme torture and degradation of Muslims in East Turkistan and Iran (by the rafidah)*, as well as preventing them from receiving their most basic rights."  

*"Rafidah" is a pejorative term for Shiites  

- Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, in a July 2014speech

In practice:

ISIS has primarily focused on local targets, attacking anyone in Iraq and Syria that does not agree with its worldview – regime forces, Shiites, Yazidis, Christians, and even other jihadists.  

Its sectarian focus dates back to the early 2000s. Under the leadership of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, ISIS – then known as Al Qaeda in Iraq – attacked Shiites and fellow Sunnis. 


Both al Qaeda and ISIS have carried out attacks against Muslim and non-Muslim civilians. But al Qaeda focuses on high-profile attacks against Western targets, fearing that sectarian attacks could alienate potential Muslim allies. ISIS, however, has carried out mass killings of Shiites, Yazidis, and other minorities. 

Al Qaeda


“Among the things which the feelings of the Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable…are the scenes of slaughtering the hostages.”

“Many of your Muslim admirers amongst the common folk are wondering about your attacks on the Shia. The sharpness of this questioning increases when the attacks are on one of their mosques...My opinion is that this matter won't be acceptable to the Muslim populace however much you have tried to explain it, and aversion to this will continue.” – Zawahiri’s 2005 letter to Abu Musab al Zarqawi  

“We treat others like they treat us…those who kill our women and our innocent, we kill their women and innocent.”– Osama bin Laden statement, 2001

In practice:

Al Qaeda has focused on spectacular attacks to provoke world attention. It has justified killing civilians as retribution for attacks by Western forces.  

Like ISIS, al Qaeda has had little tolerance for Shiites and other minorities outside its narrow worldview. But the group has acknowledged that mass sectarian killings and excessive brutality detract from its goal of attacking the West and alienate potential followers. In 2005, al Qaeda leaders warned Zarqawi against carrying out sectarian attacks that could provoke a backlash among fellow Sunnis.  

The March 2015 attacks on two Shiite mosques in Yemen reflected the contrast between al Qaeda and ISIS. Sanaa Province, an ISIS affiliate, claimed responsibility for the attacks. AQAP, al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, denied involvement, reaffirming commitment to Zawahiri’s guidelines to avoid attacks on mosques and other areas that target Muslims. 

“[American hostage Steven Sotloff’s] killing was the consequence of US arrogance and transgression which all US citizens are responsible for as they are represented by the government they have elected, approved of, and supported, through votes, polls, and taxes.”- Issue #4 of ISIS's "Dabiq" magazine, October 2014

"By using methods that led to maximum chaos and targeting apostates of all different backgrounds, the mujahidin were able to keep Iraq in constant instability and war, never allowing any apostate group to enjoy a moment of security.” - Issue #1 of ISIS's "Dabiq" magazine, July 2014

In practice:

ISIS has focused on its battlefield gains and other attacks against a wide range of targets in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has engaged in brutal mass killings of Yazidis, Shiites, and other groups in its territory. Militants invaded Yazidi communities in Sinjar in August 2014, killing those who refused to convert and driving tens of thousands from their homes. ISIS has also killed Shiites in newly captured territories.  

ISIS has reportedly kidnapped, raped, and sold women and children who are deemed unbelievers, most notably Yazidis. In late 2014, ISIS released a pamphlet justifying enslavement of non-Muslim women and children.  

ISIS has beheaded prisoners and posted images of their bodies on social media to raise its profile and gain international attention. Unlike al Qaeda, ISIS has also engaged in more conventional warfare in clashes with other armed groups over control of territory.

Use of Media

The generation gap between al Qaeda and ISIS is reflected in disparate communications tactics and outreach. Both have launched English-language magazines to attract Western recruits, but each has focused on different content. 

Al Qaeda


“As our responsibility to the Muslim Ummah in general and Muslims living in America in particular, Inspire Magazine humbly presents to you a simple improvised home recipe of a car bomb. And the good news is… you can prepare it in the kitchen of your mom too.” - From a 2014 issue of al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine

In practice:

Al Qaeda’s English language magazine, known as “Inspire”, was started in 2010 by Anwar al Awlaki, an American jihadist killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011. New issues of the magazine continued to be published after his death.  

The magazine has focused primarily on providing instructions on carrying out attacks against Western targets. But it has not articulated a broader political or military strategy.  

On the internet, al Qaeda has  primarily relied on conventional media — including older mechanisms, such as jihadist forums and websites — to propagate its message.

“The Islamic State is facing a growing list of enemies, and it further underscores the fact that the lines are being drawn and the camps of īmān (believers) and kufr (non-believers) are both being cleansed. This will eventually lead to a camp of kufr with no trace of īmān, and a camp of īmān with no trace of hypocrisy, as per the statement of the Prophet...all parties will soon be forced to make a choice between the two.” - Issue # 4 of ISIS's Dabiq magazineOctober 2014

In practice:

ISIS’s English language magazine, known as “Dabiq,” was first released in July 2014 after ISIS seized Mosul, Iraq. It has served as a platform for ISIS to promote its ideology and laud its own battlefield successes. It has focused more on religious justification for its actions than "Inspire." 

ISIS members have tended to be younger than those in al Qaeda. Recruitment efforts have targeted young Muslims between the ages of 18 and 35. ISIS has used social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other programs that typically reach a younger audience. By March 2015, there were at least 46,000 pro-ISIS Twitter accounts, according to the Brookings Institution

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