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 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State, allegedly in what would be his first public appearance at a mosque in Mosul, Iraq, photo by Social Media Website via Reuters TV/Reuters

    Commentary

    Hitting ISIS Where It Hurts: Disrupt Its Cash Flow in Iraq

    Aug 13, 2014

    President Obama's decision last week to conduct airstrikes against ISIS and send humanitarian aid will help buy time for both Iraqi and Kurdish forces to regroup. But Baghdad needs a strategy that aligns the political and economic interests of all Iraqis to hit ISIS where it hurts: its war chest.

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • Militant Islamist fighters parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province

    Commentary

    When Jihadis Come Marching Home

    The existing pool of determined jihadists in America is very small and lacks training and experience, which fighting in Syria and Iraq would provide. Returning jihadi veterans would be more formidable adversaries. Still, the threat appears manageable using current U.S. laws and existing resources.

    Nov 19, 2014

  • 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.

    Nov 18, 2014

  • A masked man speaking in what is believed to be a North American accent in a video that Islamic State militants released in September 2014 is pictured in this still frame from video obtained by Reuters, October 7, 2014

    Commentary

    What Are ISIS's Options Now?

    In domestic debates about what the United States should do to blunt the threat posed by ISIS, Americans often forget the adversary also has options. A determined force, ISIS will counter the bombing campaign.

    Oct 10, 2014

  • A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells towards Zummar, controlled by the Islamic State, near Mosul, September 15, 2014

    Commentary

    Does ISIL Represent a Threat to the United States?

    There are legitimate questions about how to best go about preventing ISIL from consolidating its control over Iraq and Levant. But this is very different from arguing that ISIL is not a threat and that the United States therefore should stand aside as it does so.

    Oct 3, 2014

  • A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes against ISIL targets Sept. 23, 2014

    Commentary

    War with ISIS: What Does Victory Look Like?

    We should start the campaign with an achievable definition of victory and a reasonable expectation about what that will take. We want to degrade ISIS so its ability to attack us and our interests is minimized, and to aid allies like Iraqis and Middle Eastern governments who are willing to commit even limited forces.

    Sep 25, 2014

  • India's Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel march during a rehearsal for the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, January 4, 2013

    Commentary

    Let's Talk About Kashmir

    When U.S. combat troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan in December 2014, and training units follow two years later, the dynamics that once turned northern India's Kashmir into both a target and an incubator of global terrorism may return. This would threaten U.S. security, as well as that of the region.

    Sep 8, 2014

  • A man holds up a sign in memory of U.S. journalist James Foley during a protest against the Assad regime in Syria in New York City, August 22, 2014

    Commentary

    Why the U.S. Swaps Prisoners but Doesn't Pay Ransom

    Reports that the United States refused to pay ransom for journalist James Foley, only weeks before it released Taliban prisoners in exchange for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, have caused confusion about U.S. policy. On the surface, it may seem inconsistent. Why release prisoners but not pay ransom?

    Sep 2, 2014

  • U.S. soldiers on patrol in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, April 24, 2012

    Commentary

    Iraq's Lessons for Afghanistan

    The successes of ISIS and other Sunni groups have raised important questions about the wisdom of America's decision to withdraw U.S. military forces from Iraq in 2011. They raise equally significant questions about the U.S. decision to exit Afghanistan in the future.

    Aug 4, 2014

  • A militant Islamist fighter films his fellow fighters in a parade in Syria's northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014

    Commentary

    An Evil Wind

    The threat of global terrorist enterprises has been enhanced by Western fighters joining al Qaeda offshoots like the Islamic State. With the terrorist threat evolving, the United States has little choice but to evolve with it.

    Jul 31, 2014

  • Soldiers entering building

    Testimony

    Jihadist Sanctuaries in Syria and Iraq

    The large number of Western violent extremists in sanctuaries like Syria and Iraq requires the adoption of policies and practices in the U.S. homeland and overseas to ensure that these extremists are detected if they return to the West and, more broadly, to reduce the flow of foreign fighters from the West.

    Jul 24, 2014

  • Shi'ite volunteers, who've joined the Iraqi army against militants from the radical Islamic State, take part in weapons training, July 18, 2014

    Commentary

    Defeating the Islamic State: Crafting a Regional Approach

    While ISIL may achieve temporary tactical gains from declaring the caliphate, it made the strategic error of declaring all other Sunni political actors illegitimate. This may provide an opening to build a coalition that can create and implement a regional strategy to attack ISIL.

    Jul 22, 2014

  • Members of Shi'ite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq carry coffins of fighters killed in clashes with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), July 7, 2014

    Commentary

    The United States Must Remain Cautious About Intervening in Iraq

    It is difficult to see how the United States can favorably affect the situation in Iraq without making a costly and risky investment. But that does not mean doing nothing. An immediate objective is to contain the conflict.

    Jul 14, 2014

  • A burnt vehicle belonging to Iraqi security forces at a checkpoint in east Mosul, one day after radical Sunni Muslim insurgents seized control of the city, June 11, 2014

    Commentary

    On the Fall of Mosul

    Despite the belief that liberal democracy is the best system of government, America's own history clearly demonstrates that the path to it can be long and painful.

    Jun 19, 2014

  • Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stand guard at a checkpoint in Mosul, Iraq, June 11, 2014

    Commentary

    Obama's Iraq Dilemma

    On the surface, President Obama faces a classic foreign policy dilemma: The Iraqis are asking for U.S. military assistance to halt ISIS's dangerous offensive, but Obama has long promised the American people that he would withdraw the U.S. military from involvement in Iraq.

    Jun 17, 2014

  • Protesters outside Nigeria's parliament demand security forces search harder for the 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram

    Commentary

    The Risks of Rescue

    As appealing as a successful mission to rescue the 200 school girls held hostage by Boko Haram in Nigeria might appear, the use of U.S. military assets to mount a rescue attempt would be a mistake.

    Jun 13, 2014

  • News Release

    Increase in Jihadist Threat Calls for New U.S. Strategy to Combat Terrorism

    Since 2010, there has been a 58 percent increase in the number of jihadist groups, a doubling of fighters, and a tripling of attacks by al Qaeda affiliates. The U.S. cannot afford to withdraw or remain disengaged from key parts of North Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia.

    Jun 4, 2014

  • U.S. President Barack Obama stands with Bob Bergdahl and Jami Bergdahl as he delivers a statement about the release of their son, prisoner of war U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington May 31, 2014

    Blog

    The Bergdahl-Taliban Prisoner Exchange Isn't New, but Presents Unique Questions

    While it's been many years since the United States secured the release of a POW via prisoner exchange, RAND's Jonah Blank, a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member, says that such deals are nothing new.

    Jun 4, 2014

  • Masked Sunni gunmen pose with their weapons during a patrol outside the city of Falluja

    Commentary

    The Accelerating Spread of Terrorism

    The number of al Qaeda and other jihadist groups and fighters are growing, not shrinking. U.S. disengagement—or even risking the return of terrorists to the field by freeing them from detention—is not the answer to the threat they pose.

    Jun 3, 2014

  • silhouette of militant with rifle

    Report

    Increase in Jihadist Threat Calls for New U.S. Strategy to Combat Terrorism

    Since 2010, there has been a 58 percent increase in the number of jihadist groups, a doubling of fighters, and a tripling of attacks by al Qaeda affiliates. The U.S. cannot afford to withdraw or remain disengaged from key parts of North Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia.

    Jun 3, 2014

  • Protesters march in support of the girls kidnapped by members of Boko Haram in front of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington

    Commentary

    Nigeria, Boko Haram, and the Difficulty of Rescuing the Kidnapped Girls

    The historical record suggests that when many hostages are involved, rescues are bloody affairs. Early RAND research on hostage situations showed that of all the ways hostages may be killed—during the initial abduction, trying to escape, murdered by their captors or during the rescue—79 percent died during the rescue.

    May 19, 2014