ISIS has nearly every State and most non-political entities opposed to it, even other Salafist terrorist groups like Ahrar al-Sham, and the Al-Nusra front oppose ISIS. The support for ISIS does exist, but it is either alleged at best or through groups that used to express support for Al-Quaeda (even though Al-Quaeda themselves opposes ISIS). It is this near universal opposition to ISIS that has lead me to ask.


What actions have led ISIS to earn the enmity of every country and even most terrorist groups?

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    Please don't use comments to answer the question. If you would like to answer, please post a real answer.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 21:55
  • Do you mean non-state, not non-political?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 1:16

10 Answers 10


What makes ISIS different from other similar groups and movements is that ISIS had the express goal of establishing an independent Islamic nation-state by conquering and annexing territory from a number of extant middle-Eastern states. I believe the original conception drew on a prior pan-Syrian movement that wanted to reestablish the territories and peoples of the ancient Assyrian empire as a modern state: at least that ideation was fairly prominent in the years leading up to the Arab Spring and the beginning of Syrian civil war. The idea of a large, militant Islamic state in the Eastern mid-East (effectively a religious empire bent on spreading its territory), was bound to unnerve everyone: from the people likely to be subjugated by it, to political groups that risked being designated apostates, to other nation states that might lose territory or influence in the region.

Had ISIS achieved its goal, it would have been the most destabilizing event in the middle-East since the establishment of Israel, and for much the same reasons. No one (except ISIS) wanted that.

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    I think it is worth noting that they claim to be a caliphate. According to many religious scholars, a legitimate caliphate would in some sense have temporal authority over the ummah, the community of Muslims. Obviously, few people outside of ISIS agree that they are in any sense legitimate, but since al-Qaeda and other such organizations at least nominally are Muslim, what ISIS is claiming is basically a direct threat to their autonomy or legitimacy.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 5:35
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    @Obie2.0 ISIS was a direct threat to the autonomy and legitimacy of every Islamic state, for exactly that reason.
    – nick012000
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 10:01
  • In my opinion this answer is wrong. Had ISIS gone about its goal without the level of violence and extremism they had shown (towards anyone), ISIS would have fared far better. Given the dysfunctional governance of the countries in the region, the breaching of territory would not have been a big deal to most non-political entities. Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 11:43
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    @AhmedTawfik that level of violence is what got them on the map in the first place, what got much bigger armies to turn and run, what got people from western nations to stream into syria and swell their ranks, etc, etc,etc. They would have been yet another ragtag syrian / iraqi militia group otherwise, completely lost in the shuffle.
    – eps
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 15:09
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    @Obie2.0 A state pronouncing a caliphate raises a lot of the same emotions and reactions in the Muslim world, for a lot of the same reasons, as you would see if the UK government were to pronounce the re-establishment of the British Empire. Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 15:16

Why is ISIS so reviled? There are 3 components to it:

  • ruthlessness and cruelty
  • territorial ambitions
  • lack of diplomacy

Western nations

The beheadings and wanton cruelty of the group speak for themselves as well as large-scale terror attacks like the Bataclan in Paris

China and Russia

ISIS "declared war on China" on behalf of Uyghurs.

ISIS bombed a Russian airliner in Egypt and certainly wants to avenge Russian actions in Chechnya and Syria.

Territorial ambitions

ISIS wants to go back to an Islamic Caliphate, roughly corresponding when the Islamic world was unified and ruled out of Baghdad, before the Mongols sacked that city in the 13th century. This was a traumatic event for Muslims, not unlike say the Sack of Rome for Westerners.

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Aside from ISIS's bloodlust, this is not a new concept, and could be, territory and ambition-wise, be related to say the Pan-Arab awakening sought by Nasser. The Muslim religion includes the notion of Ummah or community of Muslim nations. This is, again, depending on who pushes it, not necessarily a violent world view, it can be just a longing for community and better times.

However... ISIS is also supremely arrogant and cruel. That Islamic Caliphate would, obviously, be ruled by ISIS's leadership and there is no place whatsoever for the "corrupt and immoral" current governments, in ISIS's view.

Basically, every Arab government in these lands is a valid target according to ISIS. This is not unlike say Bin Laden's Fatwa on the Saudi royalty, except that everyone else is fair game as well.

So for example, they broadcast burning a Jordanian F16 pilot to death, which inflamed public opinion against them in that country.

Hatred of Shiahs

Being a fanatical Sunni group, ISIS absolutely loathes Shias, which puts in the crosshairs of Iran and the current Iraqi government. That will also put it at odds with Iran-backed groups like Hizbollah.

Opposition to Ahrar al-Sham, and the Al-Nusra front

Those groups are supported, to an extent anyway, by Middle Eastern countries. Saudi, Qatar, Turkey for the first, Qatar for the second. Many terror groups are backed by Middle Eastern governments, more or less openly. And all their backers have strong incentives to neutralize ISIS.

Intransigence and bad diplomacy.

Moving on to the Taliban which nicely sums up the reasons for ISIS's popularity deficit. ISIS doesn't like the Talibans because they are nationalistic and tribal, whereas ISIS thinks all Muslims should act together, under ISIS. So there has been an ongoing war between those 2. Again, ISIS seems mostly incapable of forging alliances of convenience as it claims supreme moral authority in all cases.

So basically, ISIS is

  • loathed for its cruelty by the normal targets of Muslim terror groups, like Western countries
  • loathed by Middle Eastern governments whom it mostly promises to burn to the ground
  • hated for its atrocities towards Muslims by many citizens in the Middle East
  • opposed by whichever terror groups are more or less openly backed by Middle Eastern governments
  • can't get along with even independent terror groups due to its ruthlessness, bossiness and intransigence.

Putting aside enmity from Western and non-Muslim nations, I think it has got to do with the fact that ISIS sometimes contest overlapping powers on existing lands and they handled terroristic diplomacy poorly. Apart from constant bombing by world powers, what I may refer to as hubris begets nemesis, their arrogance and or overconfidence played a significant role in their failure of continuing to achieve their objective to spread violence and terror too. Had ISIS achieve bipartisanship with Sunni and Shia terrorists like Al-Qaeda[1] or Taliban[2] and Hezbollah[3] respectively and establishing strategic relations with some nations (e.g. Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc.), I believe they'd achieve greater height.

To put in short, their enmity from rogue states and non-state fighters are because of:

  1. strategic reasons [4], [5]
  2. political reasons* [6]
  3. hostility towards literally everyone including other terrorists and other (covertly) pro-terrorism states

* refers to international politics of terrorism

caused by their:[6]

  • arrogance
  • overconfidence
  • imprudence
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    A far better answer than the currently upvoted ones... Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 11:44
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    "failure of achieving their objective to spread violence and terror" this is completely false. Not only did they perpetrate massive attacks across the globe with tens of thousands of casualties: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…, they were successfully recruiting natives of the countries they were targeting and establishing permanent footholds. It's more that the events of 2020 completely took away any public attention on them.
    – Layman
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 19:15
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    This is a good answer. I think it's also important to point out their arrogance/confidence/impudence is what enabled them to rise to power and attract so much support so quickly. It was a double-edged sword. Their arrogance/confidence/impudence came from the USA publicly singling out their little backwoods group and declaring their little unknown leader someone as high up on America's list as Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. ISIS took advantage of that, ♪ "We're someone America fears!" ♪, to gain support and aid while going underground until they were ready to re-emerge as major players.
    – Jamin Grey
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 21:45
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    @Layman you might want to take that list with a grain of salt, because a large number of entries are only mentioned because of claims that were never proved. Remember that claiming any casualty of any deadly incident in the world whether they had a hand in it or not is part of their communication strategy.
    – spectras
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 1:00
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    @Layman Interesting parallel: every famous bandit reached a point in their crime streak where every attack in an area was automatically attributed to them. Sometimes, they would be held responsible for 3 or 4 attacks hundreds of kilometres apart on the same day at the same time, with witnesses swearing they recognized them. Some of those bandits took pride in that reputation and actually acknowledged those attacks.
    – spectras
    Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 13:16

The reason for this collective anger and isolation faced by ISIS are

  1. The level of violence (considered as genocide)committed by them against Yazidis in 2014
  2. The propaganda videos which ensured obedience in their area of influence lead to mass precipitation of anger.
  3. The display of authority by a non-state actor forced governments in the middle east in particular to action to prevent similar instability in their own country.

The organization has been linked to myriad human rights abuses and war crimes. It has had open slave markets. It has engaged in genocidal massacres.

In one notorious case (the link is the most convenient but more credible sources confirmed it) a woman was enslaved, raped, gave birth to a child of that rape, and then had her infant killed and she was tricked into cannibalistically eating her own child and the regime thought that was O.K.

It has threatened the territory of sovereign states and supports itself with plunder from big oil companies.

Yet, it has no realistic possibility of becoming powerful for a sustained period of time in a large geographic area in its own right. So, there is no reason to refrain from condemning it out of fear.

It is easy to condemn and oppose.


As most of the other bits are obvious, but I don't see this touched enough, ISIS had its roots in Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Despite its name, this latter organization was always in tension with the (more) "internationalist" Al Qaeda leadership.

When the latter sponsored al-Nusra in Syria, AQI essentially entered open conflict with Al Qaeda... and changed its name.

Zawahiri [who led Al Qaeda after bid Laden's death] encouraged the Iraqi affiliate [AQI] to move into Syria, but he also wanted to establish a separate group under separate command, with Syrians in the lead to give it a local face. Zawahiri probably also wanted a separate group because of his past doubts about AQI’s loyalty and wisdom. Jabhat al-Nusra was thus created as the Syrian spin-off. But whereas Zawahiri saw this as a positive development, Baghdadi and other Iraqi [AQI] leaders feared the group had simply gone native and become too independent, focusing too much on Syria and ignoring Iraq and the original leadership. In an attempt to rein it in—and to reestablish his authority over the group—Baghdadi declared Jabhat al-Nusra part of his organization. Jabhat al-Nusra’s leaders balked, pledging a direct oath to Zawahiri as a way of retaining their independence. Zawahiri found this lack of unity frustrating; in an attempt to settle the matter, he proclaimed Jabhat al-Nusra to be the official Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria and Baghdadi’s group to be the official Al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, and in late 2013 ordered Baghdadi to accept this decision. Baghdadi refused and once again declared Jabhat al-Nusra subordinate to him, a move that sparked a broader clash in which perhaps four thousand fighters from both groups died. In February 2014, Zawahiri publicly disavowed Baghdadi’s group, formally ending their affiliation. [...]

Like his predecessors in AQI, Baghdadi favors first purifying the Islamic community by attacking Shia and other religious minorities as well as rival jihadist groups. The Islamic State’s long list of enemies includes the Iraqi Shia, Hezbollah, the Yazidis (a Kurdish ethnoreligious minority located predominantly in Iraq), the wider Kurdish community in Iraq, the Kurds in Syria and rival opposition groups in Syria (including Jabhat al-Nusra).

In addition to this difference in focus, Al Qaeda believes in playing nice with others; the Islamic State does not. Jabhat al-Nusra, Zawahiri’s designated affiliate in Syria and the Islamic State’s rival, works with other Syrian fighters against the Assad regime and, by the low standards of the Syrian civil war, is relatively restrained in attacks on civilians—in fact, at the same time the Islamic State was making headlines for beheading captured Americans, Jabhat al-Nusra made headlines for releasing the UN peacekeepers it had captured. Having learned from AQI’s disaster in Iraq when the population turned against it, in areas Jabhat al-Nusra controls, it proselytizes rather than terrorizes to convince Muslims to embrace “true” Islam.

-- https://www.brookings.edu/articles/isis-vs-al-qaeda-jihadisms-global-civil-war/


It’s just my impression, but I thought the Al Quaeda terrorists saw and see themselves as freedom fighters and good Muslims fighting the evil US empire. With lethal means, because that is the only way to succeed.

These same people see ISIS as madmen and barbarians. Al Quaeda finds killing 3,000 people in New York, mostly representing the evil empire, to be excusable, but what ISIS is doing is to them inexcusable. Their “religion” is as far away from Islam as you could get. No proper Muslim - including Al Quaeda supporters who see themselves as good Muslims - can accept what ISIS is doing.


It was also a deliberate tactic. Make themselves so hated that the only safety for the people came from the organization.


Similar to what I have mentioned in a previous post, the doctrine of ISIS is pretty much a modern Islam version of fascism. Fascism supports the doctrine of constant war to the point of survival of the fittest and that the state is only valuable if it fights wars on and on the guarantee only the strongest nation-state survives. ISIS acts as a fundamentalist group that keeps this principle in mind and essentially declared war on the entire Western world and even other Muslims who don't follow their doctrine. This doctrine also includes being anti-Christian, anti-Semitism, anti-democracy (with German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer saying ISIS fighters believe that "all religions who agree with democracy have to die"), and the use of chemical weapons to wipe out 'undesirables'. This has essentially turned ISIS into a terrorist group so extreme and determined to wipe out all those who oppose it that they have earned the ire of most of the world and made it clear (similar to other fascistic ideologies) that having any type of lasting peace agreement with the organization to be virtually impossible.


Every major group needs a sponsor. And if we speak of "major world terroristic groups" they all are state-sponsored. So let's talk about world policy instead.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia were active sponsors of so-called "Arab spring" starting from the very beginning in 2010-2011. Usually both states were seen as friends to each other, but clearly their interests can not always coincide. For example, in Egypt Qatar showed open support for "Muslim brotherhood" who are viewed as "terrorists" by Saudi Arabia.

In 2011 the coalition led by USA, UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Israel and other states attacked Syria. Until late 2013 they all were allies but then something changed (Egyptian coup d'etat 2013? More conflicting interests?). And so Qatar-sponsored ISIS appeared as a new major force in the Syrian war.

In January-February 2014 ISIS and Saudi-sponsored Al-Qaeda entered in direct confrontation. On 5th March 2014 KSA, Bahrain and UAE recalled envoys to Qatar, because of "interference with their internal affairs". Inofficially they speak of "Muslim brotherhood" support, but by that time Egypt was already in the hands of pro-Saudi junta. All that Qatar could do was granting refuge to some former leaders.

Eventually the diplomatic relations were withdrawn in 2017 when KSA directly accused Qatar of terrorism support. Just about the time the USA army were assaulting Raqqa and ISIS was on the verge of total ruin.

So what about Qatar/ISIS in 2014-2017? As they started fighting against KSA/Al-Qaeda, the USA being KSA's closest ally supported Al-Qaeda and chose ISIS as their (official) primary target in the Middle East. The same was done by different satellite countries of NATO for obvious reasons. Also, Syria, Iran/Hezbollah and Russia (starting from 2015) fought against both KSA- and Qatar-sponsored terrorists including ISIS.

But it's not true that everyone was against ISIS. For example, Turkey supported Qatar in their diplomatic conflict with KSA. And also Turkey was ISIS' major trade partner. When Russia started its Syrian campaign one of the main targets was Turkey-Iraq border where ISIS transported oil in huge volumes. On 24th November Turkish F-16 attacked Russian Su-24 to protect ISIS trade routes. To follow some of "turkish events", there was deep diplomatic crysis between Russia and Turkey until in 2016 pro-USA putschists tried to overthrow turkish president Erdogan.

So even though ISIS has (mostly?) gone, the states still exist and have their coalitions and wars. For example, in Libya Turkey-Qatar-Italy still fight their proxy war against KSA-UAE-Egypt-France and so on.

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