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 New York City fireman calls for 10 more rescue workers to make their way into the rubble of the World Trade Center on September 15, 2001, photo by JO1 Preston Keres/U.S. Navy

    Commentary

    ISIS vs. Al Qaida: Battle of the Terrorist Brands

    Aug 16, 2016

    Rather than thinking of defeating terrorists solely in traditional military terms, it might make sense to think of bankrupting them. It might help to consider the factors that cause luxury brands to lose their luster or big box retailers to fail.

  • Iraqi soldiers fire a rocket toward Islamic State militants on the outskirts of the Makhmour south of Mosul, Iraq, March 25, 2016, photo by Azad Lashkari/Reuters

    Content

    How to Roll Back ISIL and Other Terrorist Threats

    Sep 30, 2016

    ISIL is the most active group among Salafi-jihadists, waging a wide campaign. Defeating the group will require moving it from a quasi-state to an insurgency to a suppressed movement that controls little or no territory or population.

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • Children registered in a school and received their new school bags in Mosul, Iraq, January 23, 2017

    Commentary

    The Urgent Need for an Education Plan in Mosul

    In addition to restoring Mosul's damaged infrastructure, efforts to stabilize the city must include a plan to rebuild education. Students need to make up years of missed K-12 and university education, and ISIS indoctrination needs to be undone.

    Mar 27, 2017

  • Fighters of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham cheer on a pickup truck after a Russian helicopter was shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province, August 1, 2016

    Commentary

    Al Qaeda in Syria Can Change Its Name, but Not Its Stripes

    Al Qaeda in Syria, by any name, remains a dangerous and capable terrorist organization with the ability to conduct attacks in the West. Those seeking to grapple with the threat the group poses should focus less on its names and more on its actions.

    Mar 23, 2017

  • Afghan security forces take position during a gun battle between Taliban and Afghan security forces in Laghman province, Afghanistan, March 1, 2017

    Commentary

    How Trump Should Manage Afghanistan

    While media coverage has focused on Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan remains an important frontline state in the fight against terrorism. The Trump administration should aim to prevent Taliban forces from overthrowing the Afghan government, encourage political reconciliation where feasible, and pursue terrorists that threaten the U.S.

    Mar 21, 2017

  • Report

    Knowing the Enemy: Understanding the Islamic State and Principles for Defeating It

    RAND researchers outline general principles that U.S. policymakers must consider when conceiving and weighing appropriate strategies to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

    Mar 21, 2017

  • Pakistani soldiers at an army post in the Shawal mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, near a known haven for al Qaeda militants, April 29, 2006

    Commentary

    Beware the New Mujahideen: The Threat from Future Jihadist Networks

    Today's terrorist networks will multiply far beyond the wars in Iraq and Syria. When one conflict ends, these fighters often join another. It is critical they be denied safe haven and the ability to train and network in ungoverned territories.

    Mar 14, 2017

  • A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter watches a convoy of his forces advancing north of Raqqa, Syria, February 5, 2017

    Commentary

    To Take Raqqa, the U.S. Must Work with Its Partner in the Fight Against the Islamic State Group

    Turkey strongly opposes the U.S. bid to arm the Syrian Kurds. Rushing into Raqqa without reaching agreement with Turkey would jeopardize larger U.S. regional and even global geopolitical objectives.

    Mar 13, 2017

  • Iraqi civilians walk in Al Mansour District as fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State fighters continues in western Mosul, Iraq, March 10, 2017

    Commentary

    Why a Dying ISIS Could Be an Even Bigger Threat

    The collapse of the so-called caliphate won't eliminate ISIS or similar groups. In the short term, the threat of ISIS-related attacks on the West may even grow.

    Mar 13, 2017

  • Smoke rises in the background as Syrian Democratic Forces fighters stand near rubble of a destroyed building, north of Raqqa, Syria, November 7, 2016

    Commentary

    Where Do ISIS Fighters Go When the Caliphate Falls?

    When a conflict ends, transnational terrorists are likely to disperse in many directions and switch their allegiances among terrorist groups. For the West, countering these different groups will require a range of strategies.

    Mar 6, 2017

  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (2ndR) at the start of a meeting at the World Conference Center in Bonn, Germany, February 16, 2017

    Commentary

    U.S. Should Test Russia on Islamic State

    The United States should consider accepting Russia's offer to help on ISIS, especially if the Trump administration is considering sending more troops or establishing safe zones in Syria.

    Feb 28, 2017

  • A member of the counterterrorism task force stands guard in Times Square, New York City, December 31, 2016

    Testimony

    No Easy Solutions to the Persistent Terrorist Threat

    Jihadist terrorism isn't the most dangerous threat to the United States. But it is the most prominent. There are no clear solutions to this problem, and all America's counterterrorism options entail risks.

    Feb 14, 2017

  • Displaced people who fled ISIS arrive at a military checkpoint before being transported to camps in eastern Mosul, Iraq, January 25, 2017

    Commentary

    Stabilizing Mosul After the Battle Against ISIS

    U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have retaken the east bank of Mosul and are planning to take the west soon. The military operations that oust ISIS are crucial to the city's liberation but failing to get the civilian response right risks a widening civil war.

    Feb 9, 2017

  • Somali government soldiers secure the scene of an explosion in front of Dayah hotel in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, January 25, 2017

    Commentary

    U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy Must Be About More Than ISIS

    ISIS is a worthy candidate for eradication, but failing to also target its franchises, al-Qaida splinters, and other non-aligned groups in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia could allow other threats to metastasize.

    Feb 9, 2017

  • Iraqi army gather during a fight with Islamic State militants in Rashidiya, North of Mosul, Iraq, January 30, 2017.

    Commentary

    The Need for a Targeted Counter-ISIL Strategy

    Defeating ISIL is only possible if political conditions change in the Middle East, North and West Africa, and South Asia, and in ways that are exceedingly unlikely. The coalition should focus on reducing ISIL's ability to conduct attacks and on removing the underlying conditions that feed Sunni grievances.

    Feb 5, 2017

  • A family walks next to an Iraqi tank during a fight with ISIS militants in Rashidiya, north of Mosul, Iraq, January 30, 2017

    Commentary

    Is ISIS Breaking Apart?

    The coalition tasked with countering ISIS has made progress, and ISIS is sure to break apart further over the next few years. Any splinter groups that result could differ from their parent organization, so counterterrorism strategies will need to adjust.

    Jan 31, 2017

  • U.S. soldiers execute a fire mission to support Iraqi security forces during the Mosul counteroffensive in northern Iraq, December 24, 2016

    Report

    Countering ISIL as a Transregional Threat

    The U.S. counter-ISIL strategy must recognize the long-term nature of the global violent jihadi threat. U.S. diplomatic and military actions should focus on reducing the appeal of ISIL and disrupting the transregional network that supports it.

    Jan 31, 2017

  • Hezbollah members salute during the funeral of Ali Fayyad, a senior commander who was killed fighting in Syria, Lebanon, March 2, 2016

    Commentary

    Hezbollah Is Winning the War in Syria

    Most parties have been on the losing side of the war in Syria. Meanwhile, Lebanese terrorist militia Hezbollah has cemented its status as a regional power player. The group has gained fighting experience and benefited from a growing alliance with the Assad regime, Iran, and Russia.

    Jan 30, 2017

  • Report

    Troubled waters: a snapshot of security challenges in the Mediterranean region

    This publication is part of a series of four RAND Perspectives (PE) each focusing on different challenges in the Mediterranean region. The focus of this PE is on defence and security issues and their implications for regional stability.

    Jan 26, 2017

  • French soldiers from Operation Barkhane stand outside their armored personnel carrier during a sandstorm in Inat, Mali, May 26, 2016

    Commentary

    Mali's Persistent Jihadist Problem

    The 2013 French intervention in Mali averted an al Qaeda-backed thrust toward the capital of Bamako and reduced the threat from other jihadist groups. To ensure that a new threat does not materialize, France will need staying power and support from its allies.

    Jan 12, 2017

  • Periodical

    RAND Review: January-February 2017

    This issue highlights ways that RAND researchers on the ground in Uganda are having a measurable impact on the lives of men and women struggling with HIV and depression. The issue also features a tribute to the late economist Charles Wolf Jr.

    Jan 12, 2017

  • Testimony

    Fifteen Years After 9/11: A Preliminary Balance Sheet: Addendum

    Document submitted on January 11, 2017 as an addendum to testimony presented before the House Armed Services Committee on September 21, 2016.

    Jan 12, 2017