Terrorism’s Top Ten, excerpt from The Mind of Terror

Terrorism’s Top Ten

by Tass Saada


Across the Western media, ISIS (Islamic State) captures the big headlines on most days. But it is far from being the only player on the terrorist field.

To get a fuller picture, check this list drawn from Forbes magazine’s “The World’s 10 Richest Terrorist Organizations”—money being a key indicator of any group’s ability to impose its will. As you will quickly see, these are not just ragtag groups of outlaws running around in the shadows. These are sizable business operations.

Here is the countdown:


  1. Boko Haram (translation: “Western Education Is Sin”), now rebranded as the Islamic State’s West African Province. Annual turnover: $50 million. Source: kidnapping and ransom, fees and taxes, bank robberies, looting. Goal: To set up Sharia law across all of Nigeria (which is roughly half Muslim, half Christian), thereby defeating secular/Western influences.


  1. Real IRA, a split-off from the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that signed a peace agreement with the U.K. in 1998. Annual turnover: $50 million. Source: smuggling, illegal trade, donations. Goal: Keep using terror to get the British out of Northern Ireland altogether.


  1. Al-Shabaab (“The Youth”). Annual turnover: $70 million. Source: ransom from kidnapping/pirating of ships; donations. Goal: To drive all foreigners (including African Union troops) out of Somalia so it can establish an Islamic caliphate.


  1. Lashkar-e-Taiba (“Army of the Righteous). Annual turnover: $100 million. Source: donations. Goal: To force India to return all of Jammu-Kashmir state back to Pakistani (Muslim) governance . . . and then to overthrow the Indian government.


  1. Al-Qaeda (“The Foundation” or “The Base”). Also, branches such as “Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb” (northern Africa), “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” (Saudi Arabia, Yemen). Annual turnover: $150 million. Sources: Saudi donations, kidnapping and ransom, drug trafficking. Goal: a unified Islamic front against the West.


  1. Taliban (“Students”). Annual turnover: $400 million. Sources: “protection and support” fees from every stage of the opium trade (source of heroin); donations. Goal: an Islamic theocracy in Afghanistan, with strict Sharia law in place.


  1. Hezbollah (“Party of Allah”). Annual turnover $500 million. Sources: aid mainly from its Shiite friend, Iran; also, drug smuggling. Two goals: to “liberate” Jerusalem and all Palestine, and to turn Lebanon into a Shiite state.


  1. FARC (“Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia”). Annual turnover: $600 million. Sources: drug processing and trafficking (half the world’s cocaine); kidnapping and ransom; mining of minerals, particularly gold. Goal: to overthrow capitalism in Colombia and replace it with a Marxist-socialist government.


  1. Hamas. Annual turnover: $1 billion. Sources: taxes and fees; strong-armed businesses (everything from banks to fish farms); financial aid and donations (especially from the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar as well as Iran). Goal: to dislodge Israel so that a Palestinian state can stretch from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. Most infamous for: rocket attacks into southern Israel


  1. Islamic State (acronyms “ISIS” in English, “DAESH” in Arabic) and as many as 35 affiliates. Annual turnover, according to Forbes: $2 billion. Sources: oil sales; kidnapping and ransom; collection of taxes and “protection” monies; bank robberies and looting. Goal: to destabilize current Middle East governments, erase the boundary lines of the current map (drawn mainly by the British after World War I), and set up a whole new caliphate across the region that implements serious Islam.


Likenesses and Differences

As can be quickly seen, eight of the best-financed terrorist groups carry some kind of tie to Islam. But it would be a mistake to think that all Muslims think and act alike. With nearly 1.8 billion followers of Allah around the world, stretching from Morocco to Indonesia and even beyond, they are certainly not uniform—any more than the 2.3 billion followers of Christ are. Both faiths are fractured into multiple streams, and both have a wide range of devotional fervor or lack thereof.

The biggest segments of Islam—“denominations,” if you will—are the Sunnis (more than 80 percent) and the Shiites (less than 20 percent). But they are not evenly spread out. Shiites are the majority in countries such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain, plus have large populations in Lebanon, Pakistan, and India. Sunnis dominate just about everywhere else: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, the Palestinian territories, the Gulf states of Qatar (where my family still lives), and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). You can’t say one country is “all this” or “all that,” any more than you can flatly declare that “England is Protestant” or “Mexico is Catholic.”

This Islamic split is nothing recent. It goes all the way back to a power struggle following the death of Muhammad in A.D. 632. To this day, 40 percent of Sunnis don’t think Shiites are proper Muslims. Shiites aren’t terribly fond of Sunnis, either.


Tricky Politics

What really muddies the water is when a ruler from a minority somehow rises to power in a given nation. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, for example, is an Alawite (“follower of Ali”), a branch of the Shiite sect. But the Syrian population is three-fourths Sunni, while Alawites are only 12 percent. No wonder the country imploded into civil war in 2011.

An opposite example: Saddam Hussein was a Sunni Muslim running all of Iraq, which is two-thirds Shiite (not to mention another 10 percent Kurdish). Yet he managed to rule with an iron fist. Since his capture and death at the end of 2006, Shiite presidents have been in control—and struggling not to polarize the minority Sunnis.

ISIS is a Sunni organization through-and-through. Shiites have no place in their vision of the future; in fact, they are marked for death. ISIS views itself as the real defender of the Sunni people, unlike most politicians, whom they say can’t be counted on.

You may also have heard the terms Salafi or Wahhabi, name for a movement within the Sunni world that emphasizes purity of religion, a literal reading of the Qur’an, and strict adherence to its rules. Salafists are especially active in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE. (The name Wahhabi means the same people, but is considered a slur.) ISIS is definitely within the Salafi stream of Sunni Islam.


Mind of TerrorThere may have been a time when comfortable Westerners living in North America and Europe could pretend the world had two categories: “safe” places and “unsafe” places. Certain cities and countries would be all right for vacationing, while others would not. That myth was forever shattered on 9/11, when terror came to New York’s financial district and Washington’s military headquarters. The only reasonable conclusion since then has been that the entire globe contains no place to hide. The question “Is it safe?” doesn’t apply anymore.

Our world has a major challenge on its hands. The need for thoughtfulness and godly response has never been greater.


Excerpt taken from The Mind of Terror, Chapter 1, No Place To Hide

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