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

  • Tunisian soldiers and police patrol near Algeria's border in Kasserine, Tunisia July 4, 2015 after an Islamist militant attack on a beach hotel that killed 38 foreigners

    Commentary

    Algeria: The Bastion of North Africa

    Algeria could be a key regional partner for the United States and France in security and counterterrorism efforts against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. It has a clear interest in quelling the threat posed by regional jihadists and it has local knowledge that could be helpful to U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

    Aug 11, 2015

  • Firemen work around the World Trade Center after both towers were attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001

    Commentary

    The 1970s and the Birth of Contemporary Terrorism

    While terrorism worldwide has increased over the past four decades — and the threat of terrorism continues to dominate Americans' fears — the nearly 14 years since 9/11 have been tranquil on the home front compared to the violent 1970s.

    Jul 30, 2015

  • World map, connected people icons, and binary code

    Commentary

    War on the Web

    While the U.S. Cyber Command is preparing the nation's defenses for the coming ramp-up in cyberwarfare-like attacks, the messages spread instantly by hordes of attackers through social media may not be receiving the attention they deserve.

    Jul 23, 2015

  • A U.S. Army sergeant assists Iraqi army soldiers as they practice Military Operations in Urban Terrain procedures at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq

    Commentary

    Training Foreign Military Forces: Quality vs Quantity

    The American model for large-scale development of partner nation armies is failing. The push for numbers and the attendant dilution of training is at odds with building a cohesive army with the will to stand and fight, predicated upon an unproven assumption that a “large footprint” is itself a decisive strategy.

    Jul 15, 2015

  • U.S. soldiers rush a building during a platoon live-fire demonstration for Iraqi army trainees and officers on Camp Taji, Iraq, Feb. 5, 2015

    Commentary

    An Authorization for the Fight Against the Islamic State

    The U.S. military is conducting some 2,000 airstrikes a month against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria but progress is slow and the terrorist group has expanded far beyond those two countries. Congress needs now more than ever to take up the issue of authorizing the use of military force.

    Jul 9, 2015

  • Flowers at the beachside of the Imperial Marhaba resort, which was attacked by a gunman in Sousse, Tunisia, June 28, 2015

    Commentary

    After Attacks in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait, West Must Do More to Fight Surge of Terrorist Attacks

    The bloody terrorist attacks that left more than 50 people dead in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait are just the latest warnings that ISIS is turning its deadly campaign into a global enterprise. Stopping it will require an equally broad-based campaign.

    Jun 29, 2015

  • A Syrian refugee shows his passport after he and others were rescued by a Greek coast guard patrol boat, May 29, 2015

    Testimony

    Admitting Syrian Refugees: The Intelligence Void and the Emerging Homeland Security Threat

    The deeply intertwined wars in Syria and Iraq continue to impact U.S. national security. Based on threats posed by a number of terrorist groups in the region, it's important to examine potential risks from increased refugee flows and ensure that the U.S. refugee program safeguards national security.

    Jun 24, 2015

  • Iraqi soldiers perform physical training with 82nd Airborne

    Testimony

    An Assessment of the Counter-ISIL Campaign: One Year After Mosul

    ISIL's continuing strength demonstrates that adjustments to the current U.S. approach to counter it are necessary. The best strategy is to defeat and destroy ISIL through a partnered approach. But partnering with the Iraqi government presents a difficult challenge.

    Jun 24, 2015

  • Sunni tribal fighters stand guard near a school used as a shelter for displaced people in the city of Ramadi, April 11, 2015

    Commentary

    The Enemy You Know and the Ally You Don't

    Arming Iraq's Sunni militias to fight the Islamic State may seem like a quick fix, but newly declassified documents suggest it might only add fuel to the fire.

    Jun 23, 2015

  • A Tunisian holds up a flag during celebrations marking the fourth anniversary of Tunisia's revolution, Tunis, January 14, 2015

    Commentary

    Tunisia in the Crosshairs

    The open-ended nature of the Islamic State group's threat against Tunisair suggests that it intends to target Tunisia for the long haul. The United States should counter the threats with steadfast and sustained cooperation and assistance.

    Jun 22, 2015

  • Report

    Terrorism, Inc.: The Financing of Terrorism, Insurgency and Irregular Warfare

    This in-depth, historical analysis of terrorism investigates the major funding streams of terrorists, insurgents, guerrillas, warlords, militias, and criminal organizations throughout the world.

    Jun 15, 2015

  • Testimony

    A Survey of Terrorist Financing: Addendum

    Document submitted on June 12, 2015 as an addendum to testimony presented before the House Financial Services Committee, Task Force to Investigate Terrorist Financing on April 22, 2015.

    Jun 15, 2015

  • An Afghan border policeman escorts a detained suspected Taliban fighter near Walli Was in Paktika province near border with Pakistan November 5, 2012

    Commentary

    Expanding the Caliphate

    ISIS in South Asia, which it calls the Islamic State of Khorasan, is larger than most recognize, boasting between several hundred and several thousand fighters. But for now, it is closer to a loose affiliate than a direct arm of the organization.

    Jun 12, 2015

  • Smoke rises after what activists said were clashes with Islamic State fighters in Soran Azaz, Aleppo countryside June 1, 2015

    Commentary

    Islamic State's Global Expansion

    The radical Islamist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is now expanding in roughly a dozen countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia by exploiting local grievances, doling out money, and leveraging its battlefield successes.

    Jun 4, 2015

  • t-call-experts-hr

    Multimedia

    RAND Experts Discuss Iran’s Role in Iraq: Room for Cooperation

    Alireza Nader, senior international policy analyst with the RAND Corporation, discusses his study, “Iran's Role in Iraq: Room for Cooperation?” with Khorshied Samad, RAND senior media relations officer and Lisa Sodders, RAND media relations officer.

    Jun 2, 2015

  • Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) allied with Iraqi forces against the Islamic State, preparing to attack Tikrit March 26, 2015

    Report

    Could U.S.-Iran Cooperation Help Combat ISIL?

    Limited tactical cooperation between the United States and Iran may be possible in weakening Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant even if the two nations don't share long-term interests. U.S. and Iranian military forces are fighting the same enemy in Iraq and U.S. air power seems to complement Iran's on-the-ground presence.

    Jun 1, 2015

  • Iraqi security forces during a patrol, looking for Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Ramadi, April 9, 2015

    Commentary

    Iraq Is Bankrolling ISIL

    Iraq continues to fund ISIL by continuing salaries to the many Iraqi government employees who live in ISIL-controlled territory. That fact is a reminder of how poorly the country has been governed.

    May 26, 2015

  • A still from video purportedly of Islamic State militants, posted to social media sites on April 19, 2015

    Commentary

    Who Runs the Islamic State Group?

    Despite the Islamic State's notoriety, a wide range of theories are still circulating about who really runs the group.

    May 22, 2015

  • U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement regarding a January counterterrorism operation that accidentally killed two aid workers held hostage by al Qaeda, April 23, 2015

    Commentary

    The Death of Hostages and High-Flying Illusions

    Risk is unavoidable in fighting war or terrorism. Soldiers are sometimes felled by friendly fire, and civilians ostensibly on the sidelines become accidental targets. It is unrealistic to believe that such tragedies can always be prevented. Risks can be reduced but never entirely eliminated.

    May 4, 2015

  • People run for cover after an explosion in Jalalabad April 18, 2015

    Commentary

    Has Islamic State Entered Afghanistan?

    The bulk of the Islamic State of Khorasan is thought to be in Pakistan, but the group is trying to make inroads into Afghanistan. That said, the group's actual ability to operate in Afghanistan appears rather limited.

    May 4, 2015