Department or Program



Why does the Islamic State (IS) target and kill more civilians in Syria than Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), another influential jihadist organization embedded in the Syrian Civil War that - like IS - once identified as a formal al Qaeda (AQ) affiliate? Spanning from 2011 to 2018, IS has consistently targeted and killed a significantly larger proportion of civilians in Syria compared to JN. This study poses that the discrepancy in target behavior displayed by these jihadist groups with similar origin stories, group size, and region of operation is effectively explained by a schism in the jihadist ideological model that has divided Salafi militant organizations. While IS and JN pursue a basic goal of transforming the regional political order into a jihadist vision of sharia-based government, they disagree on what approach best promotes this goal in Syria. JN adheres to the traditional AQ-promoted agenda of long-term pragmatism, which is focused on attracting popular support from local Sunni Muslims by portraying JN as a nationalist insurgency fighting the Assad regime. In contrast, IS broke from AQ in 2014 by enacting a short-term approach to jihad, aimed at launching a hyper-violent offensive to capture a territorial Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. By comparatively analyzing the English-language online magazines of each group, this study seeks to distinguish the divergent worldviews of IS and JN, which has informed their violent targeting of civilians in the Syrian conflict.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Ko, Jiyoung

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Components of Thesis

1 pdf file

Open Access

Available to all.