Survey the new landscape of violent Islamic militancy and the immediate impression is of an impenetrable chaos. There are scores of groups who all apparently subscribe to the same basic principles of Islamic extremism but who have different names, are based in different places and have apparently different priorities, tactics and strategies. By one count there are thirty-three individual militant groups in Pakistan alone.
In the appalling violence in Syria, there are hundreds of ‘brigrades’ of fighters who are Islamic militants by most definitions. There are two Talibans, each of which is split into a multitude of different factions. There is al-Qaeda, of course, and then a bewildering array of its supposed affiliates, most of which operate with varying degrees of autonomy and most of which are, predictably, fractured themselves. There is the Islamic State, with a whole new range of connections. There are freelancers, lone wolves, stray dogs, self-starters, clean-skins, leaderless networks, cells and even ‘groupuscules’, all of which apparently have the power to cause harm, though whether greater or lesser is sometimes unclear. There is virtual militancy online, real militancy offline. None of this is static and the evolution of Islamic militancy is neither linear nor uniform. All is in constant flux.
–by Jason Burke