Comparison of the largest terrorist groups

The list of the most widespread terrorist groups is headed by the Taliban. They are followed by the Islamic State, Boko Haram und Al-Shabaab. In the years 2013 to 2017 alone, these 4 organisations carried out around 13,600 attacks and killed 72,519 people.

Overview: Terrorism

Comparison by country
Note: This page contains data from 2013 to 2017 and is no longer updated.

Terrorist acts by group 2013 to 2017

TalibanAfghanistan, Pakistan4,67519,53720,7964,559
Islamic Stateworldwide5,66532,28033,31221,963
Boko HaramWestern Africa, Central Africa1,63416,1087,5752,828
Al-ShabaabEastern Africa1,6194,5944,1722,011
MaoistsIndia, Nepal1,102541518904
Donetsk People's RepublicUkraine259821584166
Abu SayyafPhilippines, Malaysia240111253303
Fulani extremistsWestern Africa, Central Africa2231,13518465
Al-Nusrah FrontWestern Asia1951,7811,298704
Luhansk People's RepublicUkraine1127512468
Garo National Liberation ArmyIndia103455954
Anti-Balaka MilitiaCentral Africa, Cameroon707202821,058
Lashkar-e-JhangviPakistan, Afghanistan697041,436343
Asa'ib Ahl al-HaqqIraq571113791
Free Syrian ArmyWestern Asia531412046
Mayi MayiCongo (Dem. Republic)407141245
Sudan People's Liberation Movement - NorthSudan3224215615
SelekaCentral Africa, Cameroon3236380141
Haftar MilitiaLibya251012203
Islamic FrontSyria241281116
Hay'at Tahrir al-ShamSyria, Lebanon24186776
Al-Naqshabandiya ArmyIraq231231130
Muslim extremistsworldwide11517434721
Kamwina Nsapu MilitiaCongo (Dem. Republic)191811461
Popular Resistance CommitteesWestern Asia269549144
Haqqani NetworkAfghanistan, Pakistan1949820
Peace at Home CouncilTurkey1777130
Supporters of Abd Rabbuh Mansur HadiYemen147500
JundallahPakistan, Afghanistan142133360
Shura Council of Benghazi RevolutionariesLibya13441050
Jihadi-inspired extremistsworldwide5620873911
Caucasus EmirateRussia11731340
Misrata BrigadesLibya1014512
Abdullah Azzam BrigadesWestern Asia, South Asia13422840
Aleppo Fatah Operations RoomSyria8152800
Mujahideen AnsarPakistan7842010
Mai Mai Mazembe MilitiaCongo (Dem. Republic)680250
HezbollahWestern Asia121617801
Nur-al-Din al-Zinki MovementSyria5651080
David Yau Yau MilitiaSouth Sudan4919624
Mukhtar ArmyIraq4351300
Kata'ib HezbollahIraq3496001,527
Islamic Movement for the Liberation of RajaSouth Sudan28450
Ansar al-Din FrontSyria2206057
Anti-Government extremistsUnited States, Chile3598520
Islamic Unification MovementLebanon2473000
Liwa al-HaqqSyria1401600

Interdependencies among terrorist groups

Terrorist groups are rarely self-sufficient and do not always pursue their goals alone. Often, there are superordinate organizations whose individual national associations act independently, but are defacto centrally controlled or advocate a common goal. The example of Al-Qaeda explains this particularly well: Al-Qaeda occasionally appears as a transnational, independent terrorist organization, but it is actually a huge terrorist network.

The "313 Brigade" is Al-Qaeda's military arm in Pakistan, "Tawhid and Jihad" is a subgroup in Iraq, MUJAO performs the same functions in West Africa, and Khorasan in Syria. All depend on each other, but are often named as initiating an attack. Similarly, the Philippine Abu-Sajaf has nothing to do formally with Al-Qaeda, but shares roots with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. The two organizations also support each other financially today, and parts of their training take place in al-Qaeda's Middle Eastern territories.

Ultimately, it is difficult to attribute individual acts of terrorism to one organization or the other. Sometimes it just carries out what the leadership demands. Other times, several groups work on the same target, and sometimes an attack is carried out entirely independently.

Financing the terrorist organizations

Terrorism Images in the media often show tent-like accommodations, makeshift training camps and, even in the upper echelons of the organizations, a standard of living that would not suggest too much wealth. Yet terrorist acts are carried out worldwide at immense capital expense. Rapid-fire weapons, bazookas, bulletproof vests, state-of-the-art computer equipment and even their own airplanes are deployed to cause trouble in various parts of the world. According to research by the magazine "Forbes Israel," Al-Qaeda alone has an annual budget of an impressive $150 million. The Islamic State even has an annual turnover of 2 billion US dollars

The sources of income differ depending on the group. IS takes most of its budget from the oil trade. More than half of Syria's oil wells and parts of Iraq's oil reserves are controlled by IS or its subordinate offshoots. Of course, IS does not show up at the regular trading points. Instead, the oil is diverted and enters commerce through the black market.

For many terrorist groups, looting and hostage-taking is a profitable business. It is estimated that the Islamic State alone earns nearly $200 million annually from this. Drug trafficking also plays a significant role time and again. The Colombian FARC earns around half a billion U.S. dollars a year from this and, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, controls almost half of the global cocaine trade. Hezbollah and the Taliban are also said to be financed primarily through the drug trade.

What several terrorist groups have in common is financial support through donations. This does not only include (partly forced) donations from private individuals, but also states themselves support individual groups. For example, Hezbollah is supported by Iran, Hamas is supported by Qatar, and Hamas is also supported by the tax revenues of the Gaza Strip. But Western states also intervene in a targeted manner and promote one group or another with financial aid or arms deliveries in order to influence the politics of a country. Operation Cyclone", for example, was legendary in that it flushed more than 2 billion US dollars into Pakistan. The mujahideen were supported at the time. While they were still called "freedom fighters" in the 1980s, today they are described as the origin of Al-Qaeda and Abu Sajaf.

Data basis

All information sourced from the "National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism" (START) and its Global Terrorism Database. For the definition of a terrorist act see the introduction of our terrorism pages.