• Al-Qaeda fighters. (Wikimedia Commons)Source: Wikimedia Commons
'Terror' on SBS VICELAND examines the origins and influence of these organisations.
Jenna Martin

20 Jun 2017 - 1:57 PM  UPDATED 20 Jun 2017 - 2:02 PM

Despite the almost daily reports of terror attacks in Western cities perpetrated against innocent civilians, in the last two years, the vast majority of deaths from terrorism occurred in one of five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. And of these deaths, four groups were responsible for 74 percent of them: Boko Haram, The Taliban, ISIS and Al Qaeda.

In new five-part special Terror, Vice co-founder Suroosh Alvi travels the world to look at the origins and impact of these four deadly organisations along with a fifth, Al Shabaab in Somalia. He speaks with people on all sides of the conflict: soldiers, rebels, government officials, activists and victims, learning more about the history and motivations of these organisations and how they may one day be defeated.


Boko Haram

Literally translating to “Western education is sin”, Boko Haram frequently trades places with ISIS as the most dangerous and deadly terrorist group active in the world today. Largely based in northern Nigeria, it is most famous for the abduction of over 200 Nigerian girls in 2014, but Boko Haram is also international, having launched attacks in Chad, Cameroon and Niger, and been responsible for almost 5500 deaths in 2015. Thought originally to have links with Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram has officially come out in support of ISIS, though many believe that support to be tokenistic.


Without question the most notorious terrorist organisation in the world today, ISIS needs little introduction. In 2015, ISIS or ISIL carried out attacks in 252 different cities and were responsible for over 6000 deaths. Since its formation in 2002, it’s estimated ISIS and its loyal affiliates have been responsible for over 33,000 deaths, which equates to about 26 percent of deaths by terrorism during that period. Hundreds of thousands more have been injured, sold into slavery, forced to convert to Islam, tortured and displaced. With a massive campaign continuing to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, there is evidence their number of fighters is diminishing, though the by-product of that seems to be an increase in “lone wolf”-style terrorist attacks upon Western cities.

The Taliban

With a rap-sheet ranging from suicide bombing to drug and human trafficking to prostitution and extortion, the Taliban - like ISIS - needs little introduction. Ever since President George W Bush invaded Afghanistan shortly after September 11, 2001 the world has been well aware of the might and influence of this long-established terrorist organisation, which has its origins in the Afghan/Russian war of the 70s and 80s. It’s not possible to count the number of deaths and amount of destruction caused at the hands of the Taliban, but it’s estimated over 173,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2001.


Founded by Osama Bin Laden (and other militants), Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for dozens of major attacks since the early 1990s, including the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2002 Bali bombings, the 2004 Madrid train bombing, the 2005 London bombings and, of course, 9/11. It’s impossible to calculate the number of civilian deaths at the hands of Al-Qaeda, simply because not all were killed in terrorist attacks that made the news. In fact, Al-Qaeda often kills more Muslims than non, regarding liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other offshoots as heretics and non-believers, bombing their mosques and gatherings. In data looking at terrorist attacks by organisation between 2000 and 2013, however, more people were killed or injured by Al-Qaeda than by any other terrorist group.  


Meaning “the youth” in Arabic, Al Shabaab is a Somalian militant Islamist organisation determined to overthrow the country’s UN-backed government. Founded in 2006, the group has around 9000 members and imposes a very strict interpretation of Sharia law in areas under its control, such as amputation of the hands of thieves and stoning to death people accused of adultery. Beyond that, it’s ramped up its activity in nearby Kenya, launching grenade attacks and armed assaults, and, in 2015, being responsible for killing 148 students at a Kenyan university. They have been increasing their presence the last 12 months with a series of attacksRecently, around 70 people, including children, were killed at a Somali military base when fighters seized weapons, ammunition and more than a dozen military vehicles.


Terror airs Tuesdays at 9:25pm on SBS VICELAND. Missed the last episode? Watch it at SBS On Demand right here:

Why Terror In Europe is essential, sobering viewing
Direct from the mouths of those tasked with controlling terrorism in Europe, Sunday’s documentary reveals the threat of terrorism is as real and unwieldy as ever.
The evolution of ISIS
How an al-Qaeda spinoff became an aspiring caliphate of terror.