IS: The Sunni terrorist organization IS has significantly expanded its power base in a short space of time, bringing entire regions under its control. The ideological goal of ISIS is cemented in its name: "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria." Their objective is to create a large-scale theocracy made up of Syria, parts of Iraq, Lebanon, and much of Palestine and Jordan. The militant group is considered more radical than Al-Qaeda. IS is largely financed by private donations from the Gulf states Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Other sources of funding include the oil fields in northern Syria, as well as systematic extortion. Experts estimate that the group has about 10,000 fighters in its ranks. IS has taken advantage of the conflict between the Sunni minority and the Shiite majority in Iraq – a source of new recruits. Many members are also international religious warriors or converts.
Boko Haram: The name of the Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram means "Western education is sin." They are mostly active in the majority Muslim north of Nigeria, and are committed to the introduction of sharia law across the country. The group attracted a significant amount of media attention with their recent kidnappings of school girls. Dire poverty and unemployment in northern Nigeria makes it easy for Boko Haram's leaders to recruit new fighters. The Nigerian security forces are no match for the heavily armed terrorists. Since 2003, thousands of people have been killed in attacks on security forces, government agencies, churches and schools. Around 2,000 people were killed in Boko Haram attacks in the first four months of 2014 alone.
Al-Shabab: Jihadist militant group Al-Shabab was founded between 2004 and 2006 in Somalia, at a time when the country had already been embroiled in civil war for almost 15 years. Their name means "the youth." The group is fighting for a theocracy in the Horn of Africa. Their radical Islamist ideology knows no national borders. They have carried out attacks across east Africa - as well as in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, where more than 60 people were killed in an armed attack on a shopping center in September 2013. Al-Shabab controls large parts of central and southern Somalia, and have turned to other Islamist groups like Al-Qaeda for support in training fighters. They also have links with the Islamists of Boko Haram.
Al-Qaeda: Al-Qaeda is considered the parent organization of global jihad. Its name means "base" or "foundation." Al-Qaeda was the mastermind behind the attacks on New York on September 11, 2001. Their aim is to establish a theocracy which includes all Islamic countries and territories. Following the death of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda has been headed by the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri. Today, Al-Qaeda is a loose network of largely autonomous cells that are active in different countries. Among them is Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates mainly in Algeria and northern Mali, and Al-Qaeda in Yemen, a jihadist stronghold. The group ISIS in Iraq split off from Al-Qaeda.
Al-Nusra Front: The Al-Nusra Front is an official offshoot of al-Qaeda. The name means " The Support Front for the People of Levant." It is regarded as one of Syria's main rebel groups. Its stated objectives include the establishment of an Islamist state in Syria, and ultimately throughout the Levant, and in all of the countries in the eastern Mediterranean. The Al-Nusra Front has an estimated 5000-7000 members, and is most active in northern Syria.
Ansar al-Sharia: Ansar al-Sharia organizations in Tunisia and Libya advocate for the implementation of strict Sharia law. Smaller groups of Ansar al-Sharia are also active in a number of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The port city of Benghazi is the group's main stronghold in Libya. The group was blamed for an attack on the city's US consulate on September 11, 2012, which killed four people including the US ambassador. Ansar al-Sharia is said to have links to Al-Qaeda, but the group denies these allegations.
Hezbollah: The Lebanese organization Hezbollah was founded in 1982. The Shiite group receives support from Syria and Iran. Hezbollah's military arm is listed as a terrorist organization in the US and the EU. Hezbollah units are fighting in Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
Hamas: The "Islamic Resistance Movement" Hamas was founded in 1987. The group is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Besides the Fatah party led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas is the second major group representing Palestinians. Unlike Fatah, Israel has never officially recognized Hamas. Their goal is the destruction of the state of Israel. In the 1990s, they bombarded Israel with suicide bombings. Hamas has controlled the Gaza strip since 2007, while Fatah governs the West Bank. Hamas and Fatah recently agreed to form a unity government. Israel has carried out a wave of arrests of top Hamas members in the West Bank, following the recent kidnapping of Israeli teenagers in the area.