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Differences between Al-Qaeda And ISIS

Al-Qaeda & ISIS

Historical Back-ground of Al-Qaeda And ISIS

Terrorism based on twisted interpretations and explanations of religious principles and practices, sometimes dogmatic ones is a reality, and too forceful to overlook, in today’s global spectrum. All most all the organised religions have followers nursing hatred and endless hostility against believers of other religions. But barring terrorism sponsored and carried out by followers of dogmatic and political Islam, other shades of terrorism have remained passive or confined to intellectual level. But deadly terrorist groups with Islamic tag, like, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Taliban, Boka Haram, Laskar-e-Taiba, and their countless affiliates have thrown an open challenge to global civil-society, and the world as a whole is paying huge price in-terms of human lives, money, infrastructure and last but not the least all round mis-trust cutting across class, creed, religion, and gender. And it is really painful that a huge number of peace-loving Muslims are looked upon with suspicion, and anger.

Both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS), now Islamic State (IS), find their inspiration from Wahabi ideology revered by not only the Saudi royal family but majority of Saudis. The founder of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, himself belonged to a billionaire Saudi business family, and held high post in Saudi political establishment. Relationship between Saudi princess and Osama soared only after USA started planning of Iraq invasion which Saudi establishment supported. Zarqawi, a close lieutenant of Osama founded Al-Qaeda in Iraq, as an associate of Al-Qaeda. After Osama got killed by US special commandos at Abbotabad, Pakistan, there was a lull in terrorist activities with Al-Qaeda foot-print. But Al-Qaeda in Iraq started to emerge as fierce terrorist group led by Baghdadi, operating in and around Iraq. Baghdadi proved to be too ambitious to be reigned-in by top Al-Qaeda leaders like Al-Zawhari, second-in-command after Osama in Al-Qaeda. Difference as regards to mass killing of infidels, especially Shia Muslims between Al-Qaeda and IS forced top Al-Qaeda leadership to publicly disown IS during the middle of 2014. Since then IS is operating as an independent terrorist organisation.

Differences between Al-Qaeda and ISIS

Although Al-Qaeda and ISIS prima-facie fight the same battle against common enemy, and share same ideology, a close scrutiny would reveal a number of fundamental differences between the two. These are highlighted below;

Difference in Views

Al-Qaeda principally believes in a sort of defensive Jihad declared against western culture, primarily US political culture which they believe is entirely anti-Islamic, and views it as a threat to Islamic world. Al-Qaeda leadership believe that every true believer of Islam must come forward to frown west and defend Islam. It is another matter that no act of the group seems defensive. Al-Qaeda doesn’t believe in forcibly establishing caliphate, rather wants to leave it upon consensus among Islamic seminaries. ISIS on the other hand believes that every Muslim must consider it a sacred duty to contribute in the armed struggle to forcibly establishing Caliphate for the entire Muslim world. ISIS is more medieval in outlook than Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda generally does not differentiate between Muslims. ISIS, on the other hand champions the causes of radical Sunni Islam.

Targets of Attack

Al-Qaeda’s declared enemy is US and its western allies in Europe, and India due to presence of huge Muslims in the subcontinent. Many of the targets of Al-Qaeda have been western countries to instil fear among the people of US and Europe. Al-Qaeda has been more tactical in attacks, and has never given eminence to wanton mass killing, beheading, torture, and rape. But ISIS primarily believes in mass killing, torture, and rape of its hapless prey, including children. The saner and moderate section of the Muslim populace is considered as munafeqeen or hypocrites by the Islamic fundamentalist groups. Al-Qaeda prefers to counter those in a non-violent way. But ISIS has zero-tolerance for those moderate Muslims and doesn’t hesitate to mete out similar brutality to those fellow Muslims as well.


Al-Qaeda has largely remained a secretive organisation, with the command confined among the close associates of Osama. ISIS, on the other hand is a conflation of radical Sunni terrorist groups, often led by ex-officers of erstwhile Baath party of Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

Sources of Finance

Osama bin Laden himself was the primary donor of Al-Qaeda, apart from numerous moneyed business tycoons of Saudi Arabia, and middle-east. Whereas ISIS has a number of money generating schemes like illegal sale of oil, extortion, and drug-trafficking.


Al-Qaeda leadership consists of close lieutenants of Osama Bin Laden, and the leadership remains secretive. ISIS is led by collective leadership, which is less secretive. Al-Qaeda leadership believes in inspiring true believers of Islam to fight mainly against western type modern culture, through religious speeches. ISIS leadership, on the other hand exhorts Muslims in simple languages to fight non-Muslims with the objective of establishing Caliphate rule all over the world.

Use of Technology

Al-Qaeda leadership and activists rely more on primitive methods of communication, and less on modern gadgets. ISIS on the other hand is more open in using up-to-date telecommunication equipments.


  • Al-Qaeda is more anti-west in approach. ISIS upholds ultra-conservative Sunni Islam.
  • ISIS is more brutal than Al-Qaeda in operations.
  • Al-Qaeda doesn’t differentiate between Muslims, ISIS does.
  • For finance Al-Qaeda relies mainly on donations by moneyed people. ISIS, on the other hand, has a number of illegal money generating activities.
  • Al-Qaeda is more secretive, ISIS is more open.
  • Al-Qaeda uses less modern information and communication technologies. ISIS uses sophisticated technologies.
  • Al-Qaeda doesn’t have any imperialist agenda. ISIS wants to capture state power through military aggression.

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