Over the last 25 years, the answers to the most basic questions about terror have significantly changed. Terrorist threat is changing in ways that makes it more dangerous and difficult to counter and terrorist attacks are becoming more lethal. Most terror organizations active in the 1970s and 1980s had clear political objectives. They tried to calibrate their attacks to produce just enough bloodshed to get attention for their cause, but not so much as to alienate public support. Groups like the Irish republican army and the Palestine liberation organization often sought specific political concession. But now, most terrorist attacks are designed to kill as many as possible, a trend that reflects the changing motivations of today’s terrorist. Religiously motivated terrorist groups such as Boko haram represents such groups that lack a concrete political goal other than to punish their enemies by killing as many of them as possible, seemingly without concern about alienating sympathizers. This shift in terrorist motives has contributed to a change in the way some terrorist groups are structured and more importantly in the way they finance their terrorist operations.

The terrifying rise of ISIS and the comfortable boast of their own brutality is an example of such shift in terrorist motives  and operations compared to the once famous but albeit fading brand name of Salafist-jihadist terror group;  Al-qaeda.  The death of Bin Laden served as a crucial element in disentangling the al-Qaeda core’s catastrophic global terrorism aims from those of localized Islamic insurgencies worldwide. What’s left of the al-Qaeda core group simply does not have the operational capability in terms of international travel and the ability to transfer money that it had prior to 9/11 in the evolving scheme of things, the influence that al-Qaeda once wielded in consolidating the salafi-jihadist ideology as a coherent movement is waning and the percentage of salafi-jihadist violence inspired or controlled by al-Qaeda continues to decline.

The Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), a Sunni jihadist group whose sudden capture of some sensitive Iraqi territories which triggered a new crisis, is a good example of how today’s terrorist group differs in structure and operations from al-Qaeda. The overwhelming majority of ISIS’ money comes from criminal activities which makes it harder for the international community to starve them of funds. Their ability to self-fund terrorist operations comes from their willingness to blend traditional criminal techniques such as kidnappings with other criminal opportunities that comes from controlling their territories. This method of funding and operation is similar to that adopted by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko haram. Both of these groups, though operating in different regions of the world, are reducing their dependence on outside donors by carrying out bank heists, extortions, kidnappings, and other tactics more commonly associated with the mob than with violent islamist extremists. As the new ‘face’ of terrorist groups, ISIS and Boko haram also share a similarity in their methods and attitudes which includes; indiscriminate bombings in civilian areas, imposition of harsh ultraconservative interpretation of Islam and the release of terrifying and graphic execution photos and videos.

From all indications, it seems that al-Qaeda has stopped being the center – the rallying brand – for Islamist terrorist groups. It goes to show that no single extremist group holds the monopoly on terrorist threats, because new terrorist threats can emerge from isolated conspiracies or obscure cult with no previous history.

Read our article on ISIS

- @oobaremi