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Islamic State vs Al Qaeda: How to differentiate these two terrorist groups




An Iraqi Shiite militiaman, a follower of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, jumps to break a placard with the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) during a parade, in the northern oil rich province of Kirkuk, Iraq.
An Iraqi Shiite militiaman, a follower of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, jumps to break a placard with the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) during a parade, in the northern oil rich province of Kirkuk, Iraq.
Hussein Malla/AP

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For the past decade, there has been a single name at the top of the list of global terrorist threats: Al Qaeda. Now, the world is watching a new group that calls itself the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and sometimes ISIL.

Both are considered terrorist organizations, according to the U.S. government, but Al Qaeda's leadership actually disavowed the Islamic State back in February. 

"There's a theological difference between these two groups and, then going back to the origins, there are also personality clashes and cultural clashes. You can think of the Islamic State as being younger, more cutting edge, whereas Al Qaeda is a generation older and represents the old guard of the movement," says Douglas Ollivant, Senior National Security Fellow with the New America Foundation.