Accession Number:

ADA492348

Title:

Sunni and Shi'a Terrorism: Differences that Matter

Descriptive Note:

Occasional paper

Corporate Author:

MILITARY ACADEMY WEST POINT NY COMBATING TERRORISM CENTER

Personal Author(s):

Report Date:

2008-12-29

Pagination or Media Count:

76.0

Abstract:

There are significant and little appreciated differences in the trajectory of Sunni extremist terrorism and that of Shia extremism. The differences exist across six key areas. First and foremost, Sunni radicals and Shia extremists differ in the overall approach and main objectives for their use of terror. The former tend to operate in a continuous, mid-to-high intensity manner, seeing war against infidels and apostates as a perennial condition featuring overlapping waves. Outside of an ongoing and seemingly open-ended campaign against Israel, terrorist attacks by Shia groups have by and large featured discrete terror campaigns tethered to state and organizational objectives. Second, Sunni terrorists and Shia extremists manifest different patterns for recruiting terrorist operatives and developing terrorist missions. Shia terrorists, unlike their Sunni counterparts, enjoy direct state support and for that reason are far more likely to originate from Iranian embassies, consulates, and state-run businesses. Third, despite holding a minority viewpoint within the wider Sunni Islamic community, Sunni extremists, especially Salafi-Jihadis, rely more extensively on the support of their coreligionist expatriate communities in facilitating terrorist activities. Fourth, while employing similar tactics and methods, Shia terrorist groups have shown a much greater propensity to kidnap innocents to barter, while Sunni extremists more frequently abduct to kill. Fifth, Shia terror groups exhibit a much higher incidence of targeted assassinations for specific political gain, rather than the high-casualty killings featured in Sunni terrorism, particularly the Salafi-Jihadist variant. Finally, each sects extremists manage publicity and propaganda differently. The Sunni approach to information management tends to feature doctrine and resources geared to take immediate credit and widely amplify a terrorist event. Shia terrorists by and large take a much lower-key approach.

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science
  • Sociology and Law
  • Unconventional Warfare

Distribution Statement:

APPROVED FOR PUBLIC RELEASE