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

  • Afghan National Army soldiers inspect passengers at a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan, June 29, 2015, after Islamic State fighters had seized territory from rival Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan for the first time

    Commentary

    The Islamic State-Taliban Rivalry in Afghanistan

    The weakening of the Islamic State is a positive step. But Taliban successes against the group have strengthened the Taliban's power, bolstered its reputation, and complicated U.S. and Afghan government efforts to wind down the Afghan war.

    Nov 28, 2016

  • A boy holds up a white flag in Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016

    Commentary

    What ISIS Leaves Behind in Mosul Will Reveal a Lot

    The capture of Mosul, Iraq, may produce a potential trove of information about how ISIS organized itself to run a large city. Collecting, analyzing, and disseminating this material will be a major effort, one of the most important as the city is liberated.

    Nov 18, 2016

  • A Peshmerga soldier talks with a boy who is fleeing the fighting between Islamic State and the Iraqi army in Mosul, Iraq, November 14, 2016

    Commentary

    What the Battles of Mosul and Aleppo Tell Us About Their Countries' Futures

    The battle of Mosul is not just about defeating ISIS. It is about restoring Mosul to the multi-ethnic city it once was. The Syrian government's style of warfare in Aleppo, however, accepts that Syria will remain a divided country.

    Nov 14, 2016

  • Smoke rises during clashes in the town of Bashiqa, east of Mosul, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, November 8, 2016

    Commentary

    How Will Jihadist Strategy Evolve As the Islamic State Declines?

    As ISIL experiences ongoing battlefield losses it will have to rework its strategy to sustain itself as a preeminent jihadist brand. Meanwhile, the group will likely place greater emphasis on smaller scale strikes that require less central direction.

    Nov 10, 2016

  • A member of the Nusra Front squats in Ariha, Syria, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area, May 29, 2015

    Commentary

    Al Nusra Is Stronger Than Ever

    While the West targets ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra, is quietly laying the groundwork for al Qaeda's resurgence.

    Nov 2, 2016

  • News Release

    New Book Provides a Timely Guide to Understanding Insurgency Warfare

    A new book from terrorist expert Seth G. Jones explores the history and details of 181 insurgencies since the end of World War II, providing lessons for those fighting insurgent campaigns today in such countries as Syria, Libya, and Iraq.

    Nov 1, 2016

  • Fighters of the anti-government guerilla group UNITA parade under a portrait of their leader Jonas Savimbi, November 12, 1985, marking the 10th anniversary of Angolan Independence from Portugal

    Commercial Book

    Guide to Understanding Insurgency Warfare

    An exploration of the history and dynamics of 181 insurgencies since 1946 provides lessons for those fighting insurgent campaigns today in such countries as Syria, Libya, and Iraq.

    Nov 1, 2016

  • Iraqi special forces soldiers drive in a desert near Mosul, Iraq, October 25, 2016

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Lose Mosul and Still Win?

    The loss of Mosul would be a serious blow for the Islamic State but past insurgencies suggest it is far too early to count the Islamic State out.

    Oct 31, 2016

  • Al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahri speaks from an unknown location in a still image taken from video uploaded to the web on June 8, 2011

    Commentary

    Al Qaeda's Ruthless Pragmatism Makes It More Dangerous Than the Islamic State

    Al Qaeda presents a graver long-term threat to the West than the Islamic State. It has proved more effective in exploiting U.S. policy in the Middle East to legitimize itself as an armed force and, increasingly, as a viable political player.

    Oct 27, 2016

  • A convoy of Iraqi security forces advances on the outskirts of Mosul, ready to fight Islamic State militants, October 12, 2016

    Commentary

    After the Battle for Mosul, Get Ready for ISIS to Go Underground

    Only once ISIS's underground network is defeated will there be a real chance for enduring security and stability in Mosul.

    Oct 18, 2016

  • A 3D printed logo of Twitter and an Islamic State flag

    Commentary

    Fighting the Islamic State on Social Media

    Countering ISIL in the real world also requires countering its messaging online. It is critical that the U.S. and its international partners work with influential communities in the region that can more effectively and credibly counter the ISIL narrative.

    Oct 11, 2016

  • World map concept with puzzle pieces

    Essay

    Election 2016: The International Issues

    America's next president will face challenges that test the fundamentals of world order. RAND experts have outlined key decisions, the dangers involved, and the least-bad options that now often pass for good ones.

    Oct 7, 2016

  • A tank is seen as fighters from Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government take position during a battle with Islamic State militants in Sirte, Libya, September 22, 2016

    Commentary

    Keep Chemical Weapons Out of Terrorist Hands

    As the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front seized territory in Syria and northern Iraq, they came upon military sites with chemical munitions and industrial facilities with toxic chemicals. Reducing such opportunities should be a priority.

    Sep 27, 2016

  • A man arrives at the World Trade Center complex on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, September 11, 2016

    Testimony

    Fifteen Years After 9/11: A Preliminary Balance Sheet

    Fifteen years after 9/11, the United States is better organized and equipped to combat terrorism. But the country still faces a multi-tiered threat, and its citizens remain fearful.

    Sep 21, 2016

  • News Release

    Al Shabaab Weakened but Not Defeated in Somalia

    Efforts to weaken the al Qa'ida-linked terrorist group al Shabaab in Somalia have had some success, but the U.S. campaign there is in jeopardy. Urgent steps are needed to address the political, economic, and governance challenges at the heart of the conflict.

    Sep 13, 2016

  • New recruits belonging to Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group march during a parade at a military training base in Afgoye, Somalia, February 17, 2011

    Report

    Al Shabaab Is Weakened but Not Defeated in Somalia

    Efforts to weaken the al Qa'ida-linked terrorist group al Shabaab in Somalia have had some success, but the U.S. campaign there is in jeopardy. Urgent steps are needed to address the political, economic, and governance challenges at the heart of the conflict.

    Sep 13, 2016

  • New York City Police Officer Danny Shea salutes at the National September 11 Memorial in New York, September 11, 2011

    Commentary

    September 11: The Day That Changed My Country (and My Career Path) Forever

    New York City native Colin Clarke discusses how terrorism has evolved since the September 11 attacks and how the tragedy motivated him to become a terrorism expert.

    Sep 11, 2016

  • The 'Tribute in Lights' shines on the skyline of lower Manhattan in New York City, September 11, 2006

    Commentary

    Fifteen Years After 9/11, What Is the State of the 'War on Terror'?

    Much has changed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Counterterrorism efforts have made progress, and Americans are safer. But it's unclear how much further the fight against terrorism has to go.

    Sep 7, 2016

  • Women mourn the death of their relatives after an airstrike in the rebel held Bab al-Nairab neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, August 25, 2016

    Commentary

    Why Syria's War May Be About to Get Even Worse

    Whether or not the Nusra Front's new name means a genuine break from al Qaeda, the rebranding could prolong Syria's civil war. The worst-case scenario is that the group enjoys longevity like that of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    Aug 25, 2016

  • Syria Democratic Forces fighters inspect a center used by Islamic State religious police in Manbij, Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 16, 2016

    Commentary

    Demystifying the Islamic State

    To counter the threat posed by the Islamic State group, it is crucial to understand what the terrorist organization is and what it is not. Attributing all jihadist violence to a ruthless gang headquartered in Raqqa exaggerates the power of the group and plays into their propaganda and recruiting efforts.

    Aug 23, 2016