In late 2011, the US occupation of Iraq came to an end. The US military had decimated Al Qaeda in Iraq. However, by March, 2013, Al Qaeda in Iraq had rebounded and increased its manpower exponentially. At that time, they began calling themselves ISIS, Islamic State in Iraq & Syria. By August 2014, ISIS had captured large parts of Syria and Iraq triggering the US bombings of ISIS strongholds. Jordan was the first Arab nation to join the bombing of ISIS targets. After the recent beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians, Egypt retaliated by bombing ISIS targets in Libya.
ISIS thrives in countries where the political structure has broken down. When a few members of Al Qaeda in Iraq were sent to war-torn Syria in the summer of 2011, their numbers grew by leaps and bounds. Libya has been in chaos since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Rival governments are operating in separate parliaments and a plethora of armed Islamic groups are competing for control.
The following terms may be helpful to those trying to understand the complexities at hand:
ISIS: Islamic State in Iraq and Syria
ISIL: Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant
Levant: Greater Syria or more specifically Syria-Palestine which includes Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, part of southern Turkey, and Cyprus.
Shiites (a.k.a. Shias) & Sunnis: the two main Islamic groups. Their division was based on a dispute over a successor to Muhammad.
Al Qaeda: the radical Sunni organization founded by Osama bin Laden in 1988.
Baath Party: an Arab political party dominated by Sunnis. Baathism calls for the unification of the Arab world into a single state. Its members, which included Saddam Hussein, are called Baathists.
Caliphate: a borderless Islamic state. In the short term, radical Islam is calling for the unification of Arab nations into a single Islamic state. If successful, there is little doubt that Jihadists will threaten both Europe & the USA in their quest for a world-wide, borderless Islamic state.
Main Jihadi organizations: ISIS, Al Qaeda, & the Taliban. There is a malicious rivalry between the leadership of the three organizations.