Difference Between Al Qaeda and ISIS

Islamic terrorism has a group of terrorists who are followers of Islam and have a religious motive. The attacks are justified as a violation of Islamic laws or extreme interpretation by the civilians. The attacks are concentrated on mainly six Muslim countries that are Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria. The major terrorists’ groups are Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Al Qaeda vs ISIS

The main difference between Al Qaeda and ISIS is that Al Qaeda spreads across Afghanistan to West Africa mainly in Mali, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen while ISIS spreads across North Africa to South Asia to East Asia and the attacks are mainly concentrated in Iraq and Syria.

Al Qaeda vs ISIS

Al Qaeda is lead by Ayman al-Zawahiri. It launches suicide attacks or target bombing. The primary goal of Al Qaeda is to convert people to Islam and build Islam into a global religion. Al Qaeda originated in the year 1988. It was founded by Osama bin Laden and has become fragile after his death.

While ISIS is lead by Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi. ISIS declared itself as an Islamic State in 2014 and then launched the deadliest attack on Tikrit. It not only attacks citizens and soldiers but also on historical monuments and sites. It promotes the implementation of Sharia laws.

Comparison Table Between Al Qaeda and ISIS

Parameters of comparisonAl Qaeda ISIS
OriginFound in 1988 by Osama bin Laden Found in 1999 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Leaders The current leader is Ayman al-Zawahiri The current leader is Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi
Area of attackThe areas of concentration are Afghanistan to West Africa The areas of concentration are North Africa to South Asia to East Asia
AimTo implement sharia laws, remove foreign influence from Islam, and convert people to Islam to build a global religion To promote the supremacy of Allah and govern the captured territory in Islamic culture
Major attacksNumerous attacks have been launched but the attack on the US on 11th September 2001 remains the deadliest Numerous attacks have been launched but the attack on Tikrit on 12th June 2014 remains the deadliest

What is Al Qaeda?

Al Qaeda is militant Sunni Islamic extremists and Salafist jihadists declared as terrorists by the United Nations Security Council. It was founded by Osama Bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam in 1988. The present leader of the group is Ayman al-Zawahiri after the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. The region of attack includes areas like Mali, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

The attacks of Al Qaeda are organized and structural like suicide attacks or target bombing. The justification of the attacks is the removal of foreign culture and influence from the Muslim countries. They consider that a Christian-Jewish influence would destroy Islam in the future. They demand the Sharia laws be implemented across the country.

Al Qaeda works on the ideology of gaining centralization power for decision-making. The entire strategy of Al Qaeda is published in a document of five stages by Saif al-Adel and was called “Al Qaeda’s strategy to the Year 2020”.

Islamic extremism has flourished since the 7th century. Al Qaeda has involvement and collaboration with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) too. It is also believed that US strategies overwhelm Al Qaeda’s attempts. The most destructive attack was in the US on 11th September 2001 by Al Qaeda.

What is ISIS?

ISIS stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is a militant group, and follows the Salafi jihadist. It is also known as ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). They are commonly called IS (Islamic State). It was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 1999. The present leader of the group is Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi. Their attack is mainly concentrated in the Iraq and Syria region.

ISIS launches attacks not only on civilians, soldiers, journalists, aid workers but also on cultural heritage sites. The UN (United Nations) has declared ISIS responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and human rights.

ISIS follows Salafism, Wahhabism, Salafi-jihadism, and Sunni Islamist Fundamentalism. ISIS is against the conventional interpretation of Salafi. It encourages religious violence and supremacy in one God that is Allah. It wants to establish a global caliphate with apocalypticism. It aims to remove all the innovations in the Islam religion and gain original form.

After declaring itself as a separate Islamic State, the most destructive attack conducted by ISIS was on 12th June 2014 on Tikrit. It is considered the second deadliest and destructive attack conducted by any terrorist group. ISIS is a global threat to peace and security.

Main Differences Between Al Qaeda and ISIS

  1. Al Qaeda promotes eschatology and while ISIS promotes apocalypticism.
  2. Al Qaeda originated in 1988 and was found by Osama bin Laden while ISIS originated in 1999 and was found by Abu Musab al-Zawahiri.
  3. The prominent leaders of Al Qaeda have been Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, and Ayman al-Zawahiri while the main leaders of ISIS have been Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Haji Bakr, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, Muhammad Khadir Musa Ramadan, and many more.
  4. The main aim of Al Qaeda is to implement sharia laws, remove foreign influence from Islam, and convert people to Islam to build a global religion while ISIS focuses on promoting the supremacy of Allah and in governing the captured territory in the pure Islamic culture form.
  5. Al Qaeda launches attack on citizens and soldiers while ISIS launches attack on the historical monuments and cultural sites also.


Al Qaeda and ISIS are radical jihadist groups. They aim at the promotion of Islamic culture and supremacy of a single God that is Allah. Though Al Qaeda is weaker than ISIS, the procedure of reinforcement of their aims is through violence and mass killing.

These terrorist groups are a threat to global peace and security. The numerous attacks are proof of the failed counterterrorism strategies of the globe. It is essential to improve the efficacy of the current governance system to overcome terror.


  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00396338.2015.1026070
  2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1057610X.2016.1237219
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