There is no one set definition of terrorism or, what an act of terrorism is. Some definitions are more complicated than others, but essentially what it all boils down to is that terrorism is an act of violence or the threat of violence against someone or something. These threats or acts can be against ordinary citizens or a government. Generally, the goal is to promote a political agenda or a religious belief.

Recent Trends in Terrorism

Terrorism in the United States in the last few decades has been perpetrated by a mixture of right wing extremism and religious extremist groups. More recently, the country’s focus has been on Islamic extremism, as a result of 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, and other major attacks around the world (France and Belgium). Al-Qaeda’s attacks on 9/11 first brought Islamic terrorism into the forefront of the public eye but in recent years, they have become less relevant as ISIS has gained power and infamy.


Who is ISIS?

ISIS is an Islamic extremist group located in Syria and Iraq, and they have a strong hatred for the western world (the United States, France, UK, etc.). They wish to create an Islamic Caliphate, or a land governed by Islam. The group began in 2004 as al-Qaeda in Iraq, but have since changed their name to the Islamic State. There are several other names for the group, but they are all pretty much interchangeable, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIL), or Daesh (Arabic term). They are the most well-funded terrorist group in history and have received a lot of media attention for their brutality, their occupancy of territory in Syria and Iraq, and for their deadly attacks abroad. Several terrorist groups all over the world have declared their support for ISIS.



Below is a map of the territory ISIS has held in January of 2016 and as of December 2016. Raqqa is essentially ISIS’ capital and Mosul is the largest city still under their control. As you can see, their control in the areas north of Raqqa and in most of Iraq has decreased during this time period. According to reports by the BBC, in its peak, 10 million people lived within the ISIS controlled territory. Recently however, the number of people has decreased to about 6 million as their power in the region has diminished.  

See how the area the IS controls has changed during 2016 by using the slider below (credit: BBC). Keep in mind that during 2017, ISIS territory has decreased ever more than what is shown on the map. 

There are roughly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today, which is about 23% of the entire population. Some people, especially in light of recent Islamic extremist attacks, believe that the majority of Muslims are radical and violent. This couldn’t be further from the truth. One report from Peter Bergen estimates the actual number of jihadists is somewhere in the range of 85,000 to 106,000 militants. That is less than 1% of the entire Muslim population. This diagram helps to explain the different levels of the Muslim faith, getting increasingly extreme closer to the center (*diagram not to scale).