Terrorist Cells

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Terrorist organizations have long threatened the security, infrastructure, and citizens of nations and communities throughout the world. Since the early 1970s, RAND has explored the structure and activities of terrorist organizations—most recently al Qaeda and its offshoots—to understand their motivations, their recruitment and training methods, and why some are more successful than others.

  • A man purported to be ISIS captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh in a cage in a still image from an undated video filmed from an undisclosed location, made available on social media on February 3, 2015, Reuters/Social media via Reuters TV

    Commentary

    ISIS's Calculated Barbarity

    Feb 10, 2015

    ISIS's decision to murder its Jordanian hostage by burning him alive may turn out to be a strategic miscalculation, but it is not madness. Through self-selection, continued fighting, and the exaltation of unlimited violence, ISIS has created a cult whose members command and revel in displays of ever-increasing cruelty.

  • A woman with a French flag with the words 'I am Charlie' reacts while paying tribute to the victims of a shooting at the offices of French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, during a candlelight vigil at the Liberty Square in Taipei, January 9, 2015, photo by Pichi Chuang/Reuters

    Commentary

    Why al Qaeda in Yemen Attacked Paris

    Jan 12, 2015

    The bloodshed in the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was a startling reminder of al Qaeda's ambitions, capabilities, and ruthlessness. And whether or not the attack was planned as a marketing device to help al Qaeda emerge from the expanding shadow of the Islamic State, it may be having that effect.

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • A damaged picture of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in Idlib, March 28, 2015

    Commentary

    Syria and Iraq: Inside the Terrorist Factory

    As the civil wars in Syria and Iraq continue, they sharpen the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shias, threatening the stability of the region and attracting a steady flow of foreign volunteers, effectively turning Syria and Iraq into a terrorist factory.

    Mar 30, 2015

  • Militant Islamist fighters on a tank take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province, Syria, June 30, 2014

    Testimony

    The Continuing Lure of Violent Jihad

    As the civil wars in Syria and Iraq continue, so does the terrorist threat emanating from these conflicts. Two galaxies of jihadist terrorists in the region pose a credible danger to the U.S. homeland: al Qaeda and its affiliates and ISIL. But the most likely threat comes from homegrown terrorists.

    Mar 24, 2015

  • Spanish police arresting a woman suspected of recruiting women to go to Syria and Iraq to support Islamic State insurgents

    Commentary

    The Allure of ISIS for Young Recruits

    Poverty and oppression may explain why people in some countries embrace violent extremism, but it does not account for the flow of Western volunteers or the dreamy allure of fighting for a faraway cause. Biographies of those who have reached out to participate in jihad suggest a variety of motives, including alienation, personal crises, dissatisfaction with empty spiritual lives, and adolescent rebellion.

    Mar 20, 2015

  • Armored vehicles of Iraqi security forces with militias known as Hashid Shaabi passing smoke arising from a clash with Islamic State militants in the town of al-Alam, March 10, 2015

    Commentary

    Means Matter: Competent Ground Forces and the Fight Against ISIL

    If Iraqi security forces are incapable of defeating ISIL in the cities where they have gone to ground, then the only reliable means available are U.S. ground combat forces. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have all the skills in joint combined arms warfare that the ISF lacks.

    Mar 19, 2015

  • Testimony

    Containing Middle East Terror: Measures to Reduce the Threat Posed By Foreign Fighters Returning from Syria and Iraq

    Testimony presented before the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security on March 17, 2015.

    Mar 17, 2015

  • A soldier stands outside La Terrasse restaurant where militants killed five people in a gun attack in Bamako, Mali, March 7, 2015

    Commentary

    Help Malians Fight Back

    The March 7 terrorist attack that killed five people in a nightclub in Bamako, Mali, underscores the importance of international support for the West African country, which has become another front in the struggle against Islamist radicalism.

    Mar 13, 2015

  • Militant Islamist fighters ride horses in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014

    Testimony

    The Threat Posed by Foreign Fighters Returning from Syria and Iraq

    An estimated 3,400 foreign fighters have come from Europe and other Western countries to join jihadist fronts in Syria and Iraq. What is the threat posed by these Western fighters? And how can the U.S. better identify and intercept returning foreign fighters from countries covered by the Visa Waiver Program?

    Mar 12, 2015

  • A Paris crowd displaying the portraits of five of the people killed during the attack at Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015

    Commentary

    Attempting to Understand the Paris Attacks

    The investigation will eventually fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge of the events leading up to the attacks in Paris, but some questions will remain unanswered. Embedded in the unknowns are some of the chronic dilemmas faced by counterterrorist authorities everywhere.

    Feb 26, 2015

  • Houses that Faisal Shahzad and Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen lived in before they please guilty to terrorism charges.

    Essay

    Enemies Among Us: What We Know About Homegrown Terrorists

    Dozens of young Americans have attempted to join overseas jihadist groups in the past several years, raising special concern among counterterrorism officials that they might bring the fight home with them when they return.

    Feb 26, 2015

  • U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism February 19, 2015

    Commentary

    Tackling Radicalization Before It Begins

    Why not turn the question of violent extremism inside out and develop programs that reinforce non-radicalization? That is, rather than eliminating drivers, focus instead on strengthening the factors that inhibit violent extremism.

    Feb 23, 2015

  • Libyan Police prepare during the start of a security plan to increase security in Tripoli, February 9, 2015

    Commentary

    Somalia on the Mediterranean

    Libya is as vulnerable to further inroads by ISIS now as Syria was a year ago. What can the United States and its allies do to stop the hemorrhaging? Many options have been debated, but none look very promising.

    Feb 19, 2015

  • An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flightline at Creech Air Force Base, NV

    Commentary

    Armed Drone Myth 1: They Will Transform How War Is Waged Globally

    Long-range military drones are fundamentally misunderstood. Their champions wrongly contend they are revolutionizing warfare, while critics fear their spread would greatly increase the threat that China, terrorists, and others pose.

    Feb 17, 2015

  • A masked man speaking in what is believed to be a North American accent in a video that Islamic State militants released in September

    Report

    When Jihadis Come Marching Home

    Although the numbers of Westerners slipping off to join the jihadist fronts in Syria and Iraq are murky, U.S. counterterrorism officials believe that those fighters pose a clear and present danger to American security.

    Feb 16, 2015

  • Silhouette of soldier

    Testimony

    The Growing Strategic Threat of Radical Islamist Ideology

    The threat posed by ISIS is expanding through the Middle East, North Africa, and other areas of the world. While that threat is portrayed as terrorism, a greater danger is ideology tied to extremism and violence.

    Feb 12, 2015

  • A man purported to be ISIS captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh in a cage in a still image from an undated video filmed from an undisclosed location, made available on social media on February 3, 2015

    Commentary

    ISIS's Calculated Barbarity

    ISIS's decision to murder its Jordanian hostage by burning him alive may turn out to be a strategic miscalculation, but it is not madness. Through self-selection, continued fighting, and the exaltation of unlimited violence, ISIS has created a cult whose members command and revel in displays of ever-increasing cruelty.

    Feb 10, 2015

  • A man purported to be ISIS captive and Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh in front of armed men in a still image from an undated video filmed in an undisclosed location, made available on social media on February 3, 2015

    Commentary

    Experts React to ISIS's Gruesome Execution of Jordanian Pilot

    A grisly video released yesterday by ISIS appears to show Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh burned alive in a cage. Why the shift away from beheadings? What does the execution mean for Jordan? What implications will it have for ISIS?

    Feb 4, 2015

  • People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo

    Commentary

    Decoding the Breach: The Truth About the CENTCOM Hack

    When ISIS hackers hijacked the Twitter account of U.S. Central Command on Jan. 12, they falsely claimed that they had hacked into U.S. military computers. While the incident was embarrassing, it was not concerning in operational military terms. It was, however, damaging to the counterinsurgency against ISIS.

    Feb 3, 2015

  • A K-9 police unit keeps watch as passengers make their way through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

    Commentary

    Improving Domestic Security to Combat Today's Terrorist Threats

    Today, the U.S. confronts a multilayered terrorist threat and the recent spate of attacks in Europe underscores the necessity for ensuring that intelligence keeps up with it. Intelligence services must continue to prevent terrorist assaults dispatched from abroad, head off new shoe and underwear bombers, intercept individuals returning from jihadist fronts with terrorist intentions, while at the same time uncovering and thwarting homegrown plots.

    Jan 30, 2015

  • Iraqi security forces guard during the building of a new road between Diyala province and Samarra December 21, 2014. The Badr Organization, a leading political party and militia with ties to Iran, is supervising the new road.

    Commentary

    Salvaging Iraq

    The Iranian government, particularly the Revolutionary Guards, is playing a huge role in helping the Iraqi security forces fight the Islamic State. Iraq and Iran share a 910-mile border that is mostly porous. Iraq's territorial integrity is critical for Iran too.

    Jan 26, 2015

  • French Muslims hold an Islamic flag and a banner reading "Do not touch my prophet, anything but the Messenger of Allah" as they gather in central Paris January 18, 2015

    Commentary

    Eight Lessons from the Charlie Hebdo Attack

    Among the lessons to be learned from the attacks in Paris are that terrorism has many audiences, Al-Qaida remains a threat, would-be warriors are unconcerned with the schisms among jihadist camps, Europe has a more serious problem, such an attack could happen in the U.S., and intelligence is crucial.

    Jan 23, 2015