The Worlds Biggest and Newest Terror Organizations

photo by Zoriah via Flickrs

*All statistics derived from various sources using most up to date information available 

Public awareness of global terror cells has been more focalized than ever, but just how many of them are there?

We’ve compiled a list of the biggest and most powerful terrorist organizations in the eyes of the United states.

Defining Terrorism

First things first; just what exactly is terrorism?

Terrorism is a word that most of us are all too familiar with. In the post 9/11 lexicon it has become inextricable from talks of foreign policy, homeland security, and just about every U.S. military incursion in the past decade.

Still, that word–terrorism–though pervasive, is still elusively ambiguous. As it turns out, “terrorism,” is something of a running definition. The Merriam-Webster summary of the word is defined as, “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal,” but politically speaking the term terrorism is a sort of chimera, constructed of many parts, fitted to suit the purposes of adapting situations, militaries, and political agendas.

The definition of terrorism is in fact so fleeting that the U.N. (pdf) and its member states still have no unilateral consensus, noting that, “one state’s ‘terrorist’ is another state’s ‘freedom fighter.’”

Alas, despite varying opinions, the word terrorist has its place in the vocabulary of just about every developed country across the globe–especially in the U.S.

As defined by the United States here are some of the worlds biggest and most feared terrorist organizations.

Al Qaedaterrorism

Core membership:1,000

All fighters: Highest estimate:100,000+ Lowest estimate:1,000

Core geographic location: Afghanistan

Al Qaeda, though it terrorismhas recently been outshadowed by its divergent subsect ISIS or ISIL, is still one of the largest and most active terror organizations in the world. Al Qaeda was spawned by Osama Bin Laden in 1988 following Afghani opposition to Soviet invasion.

Ironically during this period, the United States funneled Osama Bin Laden’s and cohort Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s operatives–then referred to as the mujahedeen–an estimated $500-600 million in a continued effort to contain communist expansion.

Al Qaeda continues to operate in over 100 countries worldwide with core operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)


Core membership: Unknown

All fighters: 21,000-31,000

Core geographic location: Syria

As of late, ISIS has been at the center of Western attention, and for good reason. Despite ISIS being exceptionally smaller than Al Qaeda–the group from which ISIS was spawned–it has been growing at an alarmingly rapid pace.

With ISIS’ recent capture of the Syrian city Raqqa, and Iraqi cities Fallujah and Mosul, it is becoming clear that the organization is intent on expanding its operations further into both Iraq and Syria, if not elsewhere.

As a result of ISIS’ recent takeover in Mosul, and consequently Mosul’s central bank, the group also seized control of another $500 million, which brings their total assets at an estimated $2 billion.

The Taliban

Core membership: 200-1000

All fighters: 36,000+

Core geographic location: Afghanistan

The Taliban is yet Another formidable organization based in terrorismAfghanistan, but unlike many of the other organizations on the list, it originated as an educational organization. In Islamist schools called madrasas, and under the guidance of Mullah

Mohammad Omar the Taliban were borne out of only a handful of students. Eventually under Omar the group grew to hundreds and eventually tens of thousands in 1994 when 15,000 students arrived from Pakistan.

Today, not unlike it’s beginnings in the late 90’s, much of the Taliban’s wealth is derived from the harvesting of its poppy fields which are used to supply its global heroin trade. Additionally, The Taliban has, in the past, received millions of dollars in aid from The Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) as well as a supply of U.S. provided firearms in attempt to curtail the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Haqqani Network

Core membership: Unknown

All fighters: 10,000+

Core geographic location: Pakistan

Spawned from the former Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, The Haqqani Network is now one of the most brutal and well-terrorismconnected terrorist cells in the world. Former Taliban leader Mawlawl Jalaluddin Haqqani, and his close-knit constituency of family members, currently helm the organization, and have ensured its success through fundraising and other, more illicit, means.

It is believed that using Jalauddin Haqqani’s connections form the anti-Soviet years, current members solicit donations from the Persian Gulf as well as Taliban and Al Qaeda contacts in Afghanistan. Donations from Mosques, taxation from controlled territories, kidnapping, and smuggling, have also bolstered The Haqqani Network throughout its existence.

Al Shabab

Core membership: 300-800terrorism

All fighters: 3,000-5,000

Core geographic location: Somalia

Al Shabab, or “The Youth,” are the former military wing of the Somali Council of Islamist Courts and have, since their inception in 2004, been fighting Somali and African efforts to nationalize Somalia.

This terrorist cell was formed following a successful push by Ethiopian and U.N. backed warlords to rid Somalia of it’s militant Islamist extremist groups. Though Al Shabab remains active in parts of Somalia, it is decentralized and often subject to varying clan politics.

Global Terror Map




We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
James Pero